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Teacher shortage hitting RRPS

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Just days before school started, the Rio Rancho school district still had 36 teaching positions to fill, according to a report given to the board by human resources executive director Sue Passell.

It’s a trend, according to Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland, that seems to be getting worse every year.

She said fewer college students are choosing to go into the teaching field and more teachers are retiring early, exacerbating the problem. Cleveland told the board that on the first days of school in the 2010-11 school year, there were seven vacant teaching positions. She said that number has steadily increased every year. Spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said that number was 33 on the first day of school this year.

School started for the district’s sixth- through 12th-grade students Wednesday. Pendergrass said she expected many of the positions to be filled by Monday, when elementary students start school.

During the board meeting this past Monday, Passell presented the vacancy information to the school board and said her staff was working nights and weekends to fill the positions.

If the positions are not filled in time, Cleveland said the district will consider asking certified staff in other positions to temporarily go into the classroom.

“We may also ask some of our retirees to come back and fill those classrooms,” Cleveland said. “But I’ll tell you what, some of those teachers don’t want to come back. We are hoping they will take pity on us and the children and come back.”

Pendergrass said Thursday that so far the district has filled the vacant positions with long-term substitutes who have either a teaching certificate or bachelor’s degree.

Cleveland said she does not believe teacher shortages are unique to New Mexico and her colleagues in other states, such as Arizona, are experiencing the same problem.

Board member Ramon Montaño said he did not think relying on long-term substitutes was a good idea. He said the district needs to put more pressure on the state to provide more money for teacher salaries.

“I’m concerned with long-term subs,” he said. “Especially in core subjects like math.”

In addition to filling the already vacant positions, the district is having to create new teaching positions because of growth. District officials said last week they believed RRPS was on the verge of seeing a surge in enrollment.

Passell told the board Ernest Stapleton Elementary needs two more teachers, and Colinas del Norte and Maggie Cordova elementary schools need one teacher each.

“We are also watching Martin Luther King Jr. and Rio Rancho Elementary very closely,” Passell said. “It really looks like our southern elementary schools are getting some growth.”

She said MLK is possibly expecting 50 more students and Rio Rancho 30 more. Lincoln and Eagle Ridge middle schools may also need additional teachers.

“Some districts are attempting to resolve this (the shortage) by loading up their classrooms,” Cleveland said. “We haven’t had to do that yet.”