Local schools struggle to attract and retain teachers

Spring is on its way, and school districts in the CSRA are working to fill positions for the upcoming year. It’s a significant problem.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 3:18 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Spring is on its way, and school districts in the CSRA are working to fill positions for the upcoming year.

It’s a significant problem.

The Richmond County School System, the largest in the region, will soon be sitting at 300 vacancies.

A top need is for special education, math and science teachers. Some of this stems from the pandemic.

The Columbia County School District is also looking to hire.

“These school districts are growing, and there just aren’t enough people,” said Anthony Wright with the Columbia County School District.

Ashley Watson is with the Aiken County Public School District. She said, “Over the past few years, and definitely with the impact of COVID, the teacher shortage has been brought to light.”

Now the goal is to work on how to stay in front of it.

When we checked in August, we learned teacher job openings in Richmond County had increased more than 50 percent since the pandemic.

Nearly half of the public school teachers surveyed in the Peach State leave within the first five years of employment, according to a survey from 2015, even before the pandemic upped the pressure.

More money might help. That’s the idea behind a state budget proposal in the Georgia General Assembly that would give $2,000 pay increases to public school teachers.

That’s a lot like what’s being done across the Savannah River in Aiken County, where the school district has 84 vacancies right now – better than where the district was last year at this time.

“We are currently actually ahead of the ballgame as far as being able to have more teachers this coming year than we had at this point last,” she said.

Wright said: “This is a convergence of three really large school districts. The demand for these types of folks is great and the schools aren’t producing enough.”

In December, the Aiken County school board approved a pay increase for a number of employees serving students with disabilities, including teachers, aides, and bus drivers.

The board also approved a $1,000 bonus for teachers and certain other employees.

Aiken County says a mega hiring event in February set them up for success and they plan to do it again soon.

“We were able to hire 57 applicants that day on the spot. That was a really great way to really help staff for next year. So I’m looking to possibly have another event to be able to promote, you know, the rest of the hires for the upcoming school year,” said Watson.

Then the board on Jan. 10 approved the largest hiring incentive in district history: a $10,000 bonus for newly hired certified educators in special education, middle and secondary school math, and middle and secondary school science. All it takes is a three-year commitment with the district.

Those areas are “our most challenging certification areas for recruitment,” said Jennifer Hart, chief of human resources for the district.

“For the 23-24 school year, if you are hired in the areas of math, or science in middle and secondary or special education, you will receive a $10,000 hiring bonus with a three-year commitment to our district,” said Watson.

Columbia County says they are not sure if they will have the need to do that.

“We don’t know if we’re going to carry those forward into the new year. Typically, we don’t. And typically, we’re usually in a good position, starting the school year,” said Wright.

The vacancies can’t go on forever.

Hart said although employees tried to make up for the shortage, “we simply have to give our teachers some relief and fill these critical roles.”