Economy a boon to recruiters

The bad economy might end up being good for teacher recruitment, Columbia County school officials say.

 

The economic downturn is affecting school budgeting. The system could lose up to $10 million in state funds next school year. To offset the cuts, school officials intend to eliminate as many as 37 teaching positions in elementary and middle schools, saving as much as $3 million in salaries and benefits.

But that economic cloud has a silver lining. Because of financial uncertainty, fewer teachers plan to retire this year, said Anthony Wright, the schools' human resources director. Last school year, 85 educators and staff members retired. This year, the figure is less than 50.

With fewer teaching jobs available, Mr. Wright said, it is a good market for the school system.

"In years past, the (teaching) candidate was in the driver's seat of this process," Mr. Wright said. "This year, the economy has made it possible that we're in the driver's seat."

The system's human resources department typically receives between 1,800 and 2,000 applications each year. That number didn't change this year, Mr. Wright said.

What did change was the number of applicants selected for the next level -- teacher screenings. In recent years school officials held two teacher screening events in which applicants met with principals for a series of interviews. About 130 teachers were invited to each screening.

This year, just one screening event was held, with 132 teachers invited. Of those, between 50 and 75 will be offered jobs, Mr. Wright said. Last year, the school system hired about 170 teachers. In 2007, more than 200 were offered jobs.

"What we're finding now is that we're seeing more solid candidates," Mr. Wright said.

Richmond County school officials do not know how budget cuts might affect hiring.

"According to our accounting department, it is too early in our budgeting process to properly address this issue," schools spokesman Louis Svehla wrote in an e-mail.

Reach Donnie Fetter at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or donnie.fetter@augustachronicle.com.