Kansas schools prepare for teacher retirements, shortages

School administrators across Kansas say they expect a mass exodus of teachers after the economy gets better, raising concerns that there won’t be enough new teachers to take the veterans’ place.

Rural schools are expected to be hit hardest because they can’t afford to pay as much as districts in metropolitan areas.

Five years ago, school resource officers were concerned that there wouldn’t be enough incoming teachers available to replace the large number of baby-boomer teachers who were on the verge of retirement. After the economy tanked, many of those older teachers decided to wait a few more years before leaving their classrooms.

That, plus the inability of many districts to fill openings because of financial issues, led to a glut of new teachers in 2009 and 2010. At Emporia State University, the Teachers College saw its placement rate for new graduates fall from the normal 95 percent to the low 80s last year.

Deans of teaching colleges at public universities believe their colleges will produce an adequate number of teachers to fill the state’s need. But they acknowledge that when the jobs do start opening up, many new teachers will flock to metropolitan areas with better pay rather than remote areas with fewer resources.

“It seems as though, while plenty of graduates in whatever discipline wish employment in Johnson County, far fewer (are looking for jobs) in many of our western and southeastern counties,” said Michael Holen, dean of the College of Education at Kansas State University. “So, in education as much as in real estate, much of this is about location, location, location.”

Buhler Superintendent Dan Stiffler believes that because of the pay disparity, competition with bigger districts for new teachers will be fierce.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, teachers can make nearly $18,500 more per year in Johnson County – part of the Kansas City metropolitan area – than they can in Buhler.

“I’m afraid it is going to be difficult to ward off an eventual decay if we don’t begin to receive more adequate funding and also prepare for that eventuality,” Stiffler said.

Pretty Prairie Superintendent Brad Wade said his district’s situation is complicated by a larger number of experienced teachers and a rural setting.

“We probably have fewer beginning teachers than anyone in the country,” he said. “That is going to be an issue for us down the road. We’re going to have a lot of change at some point in a small amount of time.”