MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With only two weeks to go before children return to school, several Minnesota school districts are still scrambling to find enough teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
Dozens of hires still need to be made in some large districts, including Minneapolis, Anoka-Hennepin and Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan.
Many officials in those districts are confident most of those positions can be filled by September. Still, with better-paying jobs in private business siphoning away many of the best prospects, recruiters say they have fewer good candidates from which to choose.
"Sometimes we have to settle for what's available," said Stan Mack, Osseo schools assistant superintendent. "We struggle with that a bit. We don't get the best and the brightest that we got 30 years ago."
Mack said the result is more teachers and other employees being fired during their probationary periods because they can't make the grade.
Still, the crunch might be easing, partly because of heavy recruiting. St. Paul, for example, has sent recruiters as far away as Georgia and Puerto Rico.
"We're miles ahead of where we were last year," said Richard Kreyer, St. Paul schools executive director of human resources and labor relations.
A popular source for new teachers is the Dakotas, where the pay is generally lower. Western Minnesota districts routinely recruit there.
"We have had the opportunity to draw some very fine teachers from North and South Dakota," said Tom Tapper, superintendent of Marshall schools, in southwestern Minnesota.
Vernae Hasbargen, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, said it used to be the best science and math teachers abandoned rural districts for such cities as Marshall, Thief River Falls and Rochester. As a result, she said, rural schools depend on hundreds of non-licensed community experts to shoulder some of their chores.
This year, she said, teachers are making bigger jumps, all the way to the metro area. Often, it's to increase their salaries so they can earn better retirement benefits. Hasbargen said her sister moved from a North Dakota teaching job to a position with Eden Prairie schools, partly because it boosted her salary from $30,000 to more than $45,000.
Still, some districts have managed to fill their needs. Marshall has no vacancies at all, thanks in part to a plan that superintendent Tapper said is unique in Minnesota.
The district's contract with its teachers allows them to test the private business market and report back if they are offered salaries elsewhere exceeding what the district pays them. The district can match the offer as long as it doesn't exceed a certain amount -- about $4,000 to $6,000 over what the teacher currently makes. Tapper said he's had three teachers leave after the district wasn't able to pay enough extra to keep them.
In the four years Doug Froke has been superintendent of southwestern Minnesota's Fulda schools, he has snagged three teachers from South Dakota. Froke, who himself abandoned South Dakota for Minnesota, said teachers can make from $5,000 to $10,000 more in Minnesota.
"The word is out," Froke said. "Fulda was at the teacher job fair. So was Redwood Falls. So was Canby. A lot of (Twin Cities) metro districts were over there recruiting teachers. It's no surprise."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.