Utah school bosses hope the World Wide Web can help them snare new teachers.
The State Office of Education, faced with a teacher shortage, is paying about $100,000 a year to online service Teachers-Teachers.com to help it recruit teachers.
"It's becoming our common portal for national recruitment for teachers," said Sydnee Dickson, state director of educator quality and licensing. "While up front the total figure may sound ominous ... equate that with traveling and setting up a booth (at a job fair in another state). We now have access to 50 different states. So in that manner, I think it's very cost-effective."
Teachers and student teachers from around the world put in applications on the Web site, specifying qualifications and where they want to teach.
About 25 percent of schools nationwide are linked to the service, Spodak said.
Currently, the site lists 7,638 certified teachers who want to teach in Utah 581, the most of any location, live in Michigan, the site shows. About 7,350 Utah prospects live in the United States or U.S. territories; 107 live in Canada and 180 reside elsewhere, from the United Kingdom to the Philippines.
School districts the service costs about $2,500 for each, Dickson said can access the site and specify the area of expertise they're looking for, from special education to automotive technology. They can even refine their searches to only those considered "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind.
Candidates are screened by the service, in that they have to upload transcripts and fill out an application, improving the odds of finding serious and qualified candidates, Dickson said. The service lets districts woo via e-mail the precise teachers they're looking for, rather than traveling to another state, setting up a booth at a college or job fair on a guess that someone might want to work here.
Last quarter, Utah school districts posted 170 vacancies and sent 180 e-mails to candidates through the service, according to the last Teachers-Teachers.com quarterly report issued in October. Dickson believes the numbers have grown since. The latest report is expected next week. The number of teachers at the time interested in working in Utah grew by 3 percent from the quarter before, the report states.
The service also includes a Utah teacher-recruitment coordinator, Spodak said.
"The challenge here, of course, for us, is everyone wants to hire the best teachers, so we're competing nationally for teachers," Larry Shumway, state associate superintendent, said.
Utah schools kicked off the current school year 173 teachers short, with the biggest shortages in the growing Jordan, Alpine and Washington school districts, according to the "2006-2007 Teacher Supply and Demand Follow-Up Study" by David Sperry, Utah System of Higher Education scholar-in-residence.
More than half of teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their careers. That's up from 48 percent a year ago, the study states.
The shortage occurs as Utah's enrollment is forecast to grow from 540,000 to 680,000 students by 2014, requiring 44,000 new teachers, according to a study by Utah State University.
But when it comes to recruiting teachers, Utah has competition. The teacher shortage is, after all, a national problem.
Wyoming touts small class sizes averaging 13 to 15 students in elementary schools and an average base salary of nearly $51,000, Wyoming Department of Education spokesman Tim Lockwood said.
Clark County School District in Las Vegas offers move-ins a $2,000 bonus, credit for up to 13 years on the salary schedule, a mentoring program, a $33,800 beginning teacher salary and about $47,000 average teacher pay, no state income tax and free benefits, said Byron Green, director of recruitment and staffing.
Such perks are a necessity: the Nevada district is growing by about a dozen new schools every year and needs up to 3,000 new teachers to work in them, said Emily Aguero, district executive director of recruitment and staffing. Officials there comb the United States for candidates, traveling to places as far away as Pittsburgh several times every month, Green said.
Utah doesn't have a lot of money to offer teachers, but is working to improve matters.
Utah lawmakers last year aimed to give every teacher a $2,500 raise and $1,000 bonus. While calculation errors reduced the amounts, legislative leaders promised to fill in the holes in the 2008 Legislature, which begins Jan. 21.
Before that, Utah's average teacher salary was approximately $39,000.
Utah districts also have money to give bonuses to math, science and special education teachers, sometimes in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, Shumway noted. The state also has a student-loan forgiveness program for teachers willing to work in at-risk schools.
Legislators in the coming weeks are expected to debate several bills aimed at recruiting teachers. Proposals include scholarships for student teachers, more pay for a lengthened school year, up to $2,000 stipends for special education teachers, even offering teachers a forgivable, $15,000 home loan for those agreeing to teach in a Utah school for 10 years.
Meanwhile, Utah officials hope Teachers-Teachers.com, and the state itself, can help lure educators."The thing that we're trying to do as we recruit is to make the best pitch we can that Utah's a great place to teach, a great quality of life, and lots of great kids and parents and a great school system," Shumway said.