Budget cuts affecting teaching jobs

Education remains a promising sector for employment over the next decade, along side health care and the financial sectors, according to John Silvia, chief economist of Wells Fargo.

In his State of the Union message in January, President Barack Obama urged young people to consider the teaching profession, citing an estimated 100,000 teaching positions that could open as baby boomers retire.

Such outlooks seem to run contrary to what’s occurring in 2011. Public school districts across the nation are reducing staff as state and local governments face a budget crunch fueled by declining tax revenues and mandates to fund Medicaid. Major provisions of the national health care legislation approved in 2010 are set to kick in over the next six years, making it uncertain how much states will have to pay to broaden health care benefits.

The situation has come home to roost in public schools in Mesa County, where School District 51 plans to begin the school year in August with 42 fewer teachers than it had this spring. Eighty teachers plan to retire and the district anticipates filling 38 of those positions — at most.

Mesa State College offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in teacher education and potential teachers from outside the area seek employment in Mesa County as well. National reports indicate the ratio of applicants to teaching positions is more than 600-to-1 for such subjects as art and English.

So what are the prospects for education graduates — or for high school students contemplating teacher education coursework in college? Overall, not so good right now. But as with any profession, some types of teachers remain in demand.

Nationally and in Mesa County, there are potential openings for teachers of math or science, particularly because the nation is focused on science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) curricula. “It’s like anything else, you target a high need area, it’s easier to find a job,” said Melissa Callahan deVita, executive director of support services for School District 51.

Teachers are also in demand to teach Spanish or instruct special education students, Callahan deVita said.

Of course, some of the former teachers who are out of work can re-enter the applicant pool, making the competition even more fierce.

School District 51 declines to renew the contracts of 30 to 50 non-tenured teachers each year, and the number will probably be higher this year. Most of those understand they signed one-year contracts and don’t count on returning, said Jeff Kirtland, public information officer for the school district.

Mesa State College has headed the other direction when it comes to hiring. An expanding student population from 5,800 in March 2008 to more than 7,000 in March 2010 coincided with the addition of 93 jobs at the college, bringing the total to 753. The student population grew to more than 8,000 this spring and the college advertised more faculty positions.

Yet, the college is prepared for leaner budget times ahead. Mesa State President Tim Foster expects state funding for colleges could end in 2014 due to federal mandates to increase funding for health care.

Time will tell what budget effects colleges will face in the next three years, but the public school system is already tightening its belt as administrators work to curtail the decline in the number of teaching positions.