There were 317 vacant teaching positions in Kansas at the beginning of September.
But officials from the Kansas Department of Education caution not to read too much into that number just yet. This is the first stage of an in-depth study the department is conducting on teacher vacancies to determine why some districts can’t fill certain positions.
The department has previously administered a survey for the U.S. Department of Education on teacher demographics, which included questions on vacancies. Starting this year, it began conducting its own survey that dives deeper.
“We’re wanting to have as solid data as possible,” said Scott Myers, the director of teacher licensure and accreditation, explaining that this is an attempt to move away from anecdotal information on tough-to-fill teaching positions toward hard data.
School districts reported vacant teaching positions as of Sept. 1. In February, the districts will say whether they filled those positions and, if not, what factors were responsible.
“When we close the loop (in February), we’ll really have a better idea of what happens this year,” Myers said. “And as we move forward, then we’ll have all sorts of data points.”
The Wichita school district accounted for 64 of the state’s vacancies as of September – more than any other district. Dodge City and Garden City in southwest Kansas were next with 47 and 35 vacancies respectively. Goddard schools, in western Sedgwick County, had 13 vacant positions.
Susan Helbert, the assistant director of teacher licensure and accreditation, noted that the reasons districts can’t fill positions vary. In some cases, it’s because a district could not find anyone qualified for the job, while in other cases budgetary constraints play a role.
Special education accounted for 46 of the vacancies statewide. Mathematics accounted for 38 and elementary education accounted for 33.
Mark Tallman, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said it has always been difficult to fill special education positions. “There really are concerns across the state that we are again having problems getting people to apply or finding people we feel are really qualified to do it,” he said.
Over the course of the next few years, as it collects more data, the Department of Education will be able to tell whether this represents a trend and whether that situation is worsening or improving.
Special education accounted for eight of Wichita’s vacancies, while elementary positions accounted for 10.