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Pennsylvania becomes teacher 'supply state'

| Sunday, April 12, 2009

Erin Cummings couldn't find a teaching job in Pennsylvania when she graduated from Penn State University in 2003, so she went to Maryland and taught third grade.

"I knew I always wanted to come back to Pittsburgh. I was born and raised here," said Cummings, who returned to Carlynton School District in 2006 as a long-term substitute before becoming a full-time first-grade teacher.

It took Chris Fox a little longer to return home after landing his first teaching job in Virginia in 1996. He came back in 2006 to take a job in Riverview School District in Oakmont.

"It takes a long time to get a license in Pennsylvania ... and the school districts are more selective," he said. "In Virginia, they said, 'You got a degree in Pennsylvania• You're good.' "

Pennsylvania has become "a supply state" to school districts across the nation in desperate need of teachers like Cummings and Fox. Thousands of graduates from Pennsylvania's 95 teaching colleges and universities every year must leave the state to find their first job. In fact, fewer than half of the state's 15,000 new teachers will find in-state jobs.

"Kids who want to go teach in their home district aren't being realistic. You have to spread your wings a little bit," said Jay Hertzog, dean of the College of Education at Slippery Rock University.

Salary and benefits are a big attraction for Pennsylvania teachers. They are reasons teachers tend to stay here, often working for 30 years or more before retiring.

The average teacher salary in Pennsylvania is about $54,000; Virginia's average teacher salary, for instance, is about $43,000, according to, a Web site that tracks teacher salaries.

"It is a tough market in Pennsylvania. The market is just saturated," said Donna Skundrich, human resources manager for the Shaler Area School District.

Almost 124,000 teachers were employed in the state's 3,287 schools in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

Teaching positions in Pennsylvania are expected to open up as more baby boomers retire, but for now, "We're kind of full up," Hertzog said.

For teachers like Ray Ross, a graduate of St. Vincent College and Duquesne University, who found his first teaching job in North Carolina, his desire to teach grew out of coaching hockey while in college.

"I liked that ... and wondered what would teaching be like?" said Ross, who now teaches 9th grade civics in the West Mifflin School District.

The process of landing a teaching job here can be "very frustrating," said Butch Santicola, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Some have complained that it's too political because elected school boards make the final hiring decisions.

Ken Brinkman, formerly of Glassport, moved to Maryland to find a teaching job after he graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1994 and never looked back.

"I had some friends who stuck around up there. They were still subbing four or five years later," said Brinkman, 37, who met three other teachers from Pennsylvania on his first day on the job.

The glut of teachers forced the Chartiers Valley School District to limit its advertising of openings to January and May, said Donald Kaminski, director of human resources.

"There were times here in a 12-month period where we had 1,200 resumes on file," he said. The district, which has 3,500 students and 263 teachers, has 703 active applications on file.

The 14 schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education started out as teaching colleges and education majors still constitute the largest number of students in those schools, said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the system.

Marshall said not every student who majors in education will go on to teach.

"We produce more teachers in raw numbers, but there are shortages in math, science, technical education and special education," he said. "We export a lot of teachers but we still have some shortages."

Last year, the Florida Department of Education came to Pennsylvania to help find some of the 16,000 new teachers it needed in math, sciences, foreign languages, language arts, reading and special education.

Teachers are needed in the Carolinas and other southern states. Georgia produces 3,500 teachers a year but needs 9,000, said Hertzog.

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