SPOKANE, Wash. --- A teacher shortage across the nation is hitting Washington, and one small school district Pend Oreille County, hard.
“There is a confluence of issues that is happening right now, and it’s a bit of a perfect storm,” explained Maria Flores from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “We have an increase in demand and a decrease in supply.”
Flores said three things were contributing to the nationwide shortage: policy changes that required a class size reduction for kindergarten through third grade which meant hiring additional staff, increased teacher attrition and a recent slew of retirements.
School districts, when desperate for people to educate Washington’s youth, can hire people who don’t have teaching certificates to make sure there is someone at the front of the class.
The number of “emergency teachers” in the state has doubled in the class two years, the Seattle Times first reported, and a local school district uses the highest percentage of them.
Selkirk School District, in Metaline Falls, according to data from OSPI, has 22 percent of their teachers listed as “emergency.”
An emergency teacher is one of two things: An emergency certified teacher, someone with a bachelor’s degree and has finished most of a teacher prep program; or an emergency substitute teacher, which is just anyone that has finished high school.
The numbers, the superintendent from Selkirk SD argued, only tell part of the story.
“The data is a little misleading,” said Nancy Lotze over the phone on Friday. She said 22 percent of her teachers is about five instructors, but she really only considered one of her teachers truly un-certified.
She explained how the other teachers had certifications that just were lapsed or did not cover certain subjects that the district needed teachers for.
“These are creative ways to get certification for people, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have experience,” said Lotze. “It’s hard to get a good teacher with lots of talents in different areas to expand beyond their endorsements.”
Lotze said Selkirk SD has recently had a hard time convincing new hires to move up to Metaline Falls.
“We’re not attracting into education the numbers that we used to,” she said.
"It's a symptom of a statewide issue that we've known about for a long time and the legislature has yet to find solutions that will encourage our young people to become teachers," said Greg Goodnight, the principal of Selkirk's combined middle and high school.
Selkirk SD recently announced a switch to a four day school week, in an effort to attract new teachers. Lotze said it seemed to have worked. Of their five openings for next fall, four of them have been filled already.
“All the people that we did hire said that was a factor in their decisions,” Lotze said of the switch to the four day school week.
She explained that they can’t offer the higher pay or other benefits bigger school districts on the western side of Washington can offer, but a three day weekend was appealing.
Lotze recalled talking to a principal from a wealthier district on the west side of the state last summer who told her he had hired 40 elementary school teachers for the upcoming semester.
“So what does that do for these small rural Eastern Washington schools?” asked Lotze. “I bet Gonzaga and Eastern Washington don’t have more than 30-40 students graduating with education degrees [each year].”
Of the five openings Selkirk SD had for this fall, four of them have been filled. Lotze said she still needed to hire a music teacher.
The Selkirk principal did not apologize for their use of alternative ways to certify teachers. He said he was grateful there are people willing to fill a void.
"They're the best qualified people we can find," Goodnight said.
Other local school districts listed in OSPI’s top 26 districts with a high percentage of emergency certified teachers:
Warden School District – 14.55 percent
Othello School District – 11.63 percent
Soap Lake School District – 11.11 percent
Orondo School District – 7.69 percent
Wilson Creek School District – 7.14 percent
No one from the Idaho State Department of Education was available to respond to KREM 2’s request for data and comment on Thursday or Friday.
If we hear back from them, this story will be updated.