The School District unveiled a major teacher-recruitment campaign on Wednesday, complete with billboards and video and radio advertising, to hire up to 1,000 teachers for the next school year.
The push is part of an effort to begin hiring earlier so that more jobs are filled when the next school year starts. The District also wants to strengthen partnerships with local universities to help provide teachers, re-establish a teacher residency program, and "expand work with alternate route programs" that often provide a more diverse group of applicants.
One goal is to recruit more teachers of color. According to District data, about half the teachers in the District are white females, about 20 percent are black females, another 20 percent are white males, and less than 5 percent are Black males. About 3 percent are Latino and 2 percent Asian.
Superintendent William Hite in a statement said it is "a great time to teach and work" in the District, citing $440 million in new investments in schools made over the last two years, after a period of drastic cuts brought on by a reduction in state aid.
"Every day I see the tremendous impact our teachers make in the lives of our students," Hite said.
The statement touts its starting salary of $45,360 for teachers and counselors with no experience, and for nurses, it is $51,113. Candidates who have experience start at a higher rate.
Hite did not mention that District teachers have been working without a contract for five years and have received no raises during that time or that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the District have made little progress in reaching a settlement. Some teachers have raised money for a billboard of their own castigating the School Reform Commission for not offering them a "fair contract."
The District put an offer on the table last fall that PFT president Jerry Jordan rejected, calling it inadequate. It would have been worth about $107 million over five years, with the possibility of federal grant money swelling the total to $153 million.
That offer did not restore teachers to the place they would have been, based on years of experience and education, nor include any lost back pay.
In a statement, spokesman Lee Whack said: "The School District of Philadelphia has put a $150 million contract offer on the table with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This offer includes raises for all members across the life of the contract. But we must remain mindful of the funding limits we have been given by city and state funders, and those limits do not include an additional $400 million to meet what is demanded by PFT leadership.”
The District is projecting a $500 million shortfall by 2021 based on currently expected revenues. The District has a small fund balance this year, but it is partly due to the salary savings. And neither City Council nor Harrisburg has indicated a willingness to significantly increase funds to the District in order to pay for a generous teachers' contract.
Despite the turmoil, annual teacher retention rates in the District have stayed at around 90 percent for the last several years, except for 2013-14, when severe state aid cutbacks resulted in layoffs. That year, the retention rate dropped to 83 percent. Although state aid has increased since then, it still lags behind in real dollars where it was before the cuts.
Even at 90 percent retention, with teachers, counselors, and nurses numbering more than 9,000, 10 percent attrition each year means the need to fill 900 to 1,000 positions. And the District's hiring process in the past has often been cumbersome, with qualified candidates opting to work elsewhere because job offers were made so late. In the 2015-16 school year, the teacher vacancy rate lingered up near 200 into February.
The District's statement said that this year, it is launching "a larger detailed plan ... to more quickly fill vacancies with a large, diverse pipeline of candidates, allow principals to more nimbly address teacher issues in schools, and ensure principals are retaining great teachers."
Especially needed are teachers certified to teach kindergarten through 3rd grade – as part of the citywide crusade to have all children reading proficiently by the time they enter 4th grade – and teachers for 9th graders.
"We know how important the early grades are to children reading on grade levels and how critical 9th grade is in order for students to graduate high school on time," Hite said.
Also needed are teachers for grades 4 through 8, secondary math and science, special education, music, foreign language, and bilingual Spanish. Especially prized are teachers with dual certifications in math, science and special education. They are also seeking to create a pool of "supplemental" teachers who can quickly fill vacancies when they arise.
District spokesman Kevin Geary said that this recruitment effort is more detailed than one last year, with additional focus on social media and video ads.
The ads feature current teachers talking about their work. In addition to the billboards and ads, the District also plans social media outreach.
Candidates who apply by March 27 and whose qualifications are cleared could interview for specific openings in schools in April. A Teacher Information Session will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 6, at District headquarters, 440 N. Broad Street.
Click here to listen to an audio ad for the campaign.