BY CARRIE HODOUSEK
CHARLESTON — With just weeks until school starts, districts across West Virginia are left with dozens of unfilled teaching positions.
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee predicts the problem will only get worse this fall.
“I project those numbers to be over 1,500 this coming school year,” Lee said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The state Department of Education reported 1,196 teacher vacancies statewide in 2021.
Lee said the vacancies are widespread across all different grade levels.
“Before we used to hear it’s only math and science. No. It’s first grade classes, kindergarten, social studies, phys ed, health. Every discipline across the curriculum we’re having shortages,” he said.
Many teachers cite an increasing workload, concerns for safety and low pay.
It’s not just a statewide issue, Lee said. Teacher shortages are being reported across the nation. Lee said West Virginia needs to offer competitive salaries to keep teachers in the state.
“When you can make anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 more by simply driving 30 minutes across the border, we’re going to have those problems,” he said.
The issue is not that there aren’t enough bodies in the classroom teaching. Lee said there is a lack of certified teachers who specialize in certain subjects. He said teachers also act as social workers and nurses, making it a stressful job with little compensation.
“It’s a tough job,” he said.
Many end up leaving the profession early on in their teaching careers, Lee said.
“About 50% of the people entering the profession leave the profession within the first five years,” he said.
A spokesperson for Kanawha County Schools told MetroNews in a Monday morning email the district currently has 192 teacher vacancies, which is up from around 164 this time last year.
“We will be hiring rapidly this week,” KCS Communications Director Briana Warner said.
The Kanawha County Board of Education is set to approve personnel in a special session meeting today.
“The number of vacancies will drop, but will still be significant,” Warner added.
Last week, the Wood County Board of Education approved a $3,000 signing bonus for special education positions. It’s the first time the county has offered such a bonus.
The state Department of Education has launched several initiatives to fill teaching positions, including the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholars Program Fund. It’s a program that pays tuition for students pursing teaching degrees in math, science and education if they agree to live in West Virginia.
The 2022-23 school year begins Aug.16 for schools in Barbour, Braxton, Pocahontas and Upshur counties.
Classes start Aug. 23 for Monongalia and Preston counties.