Teacher vacancies dropped for a fifth straight year in Kansas as school districts continued to slash teaching positions to balance budgets made tight by stagnant state funding.
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, public schools had about 295 unfilled teaching positions at the start of the academic year, down from about 351 last year and 530 in 2000.
Dale Dennis, the state's assistant education commissioner, said one reason for the decrease in vacancies over the years may be that education graduates are more likely to look for teaching positions in a tight job market.
Also, Dennis said, in the past three years many districts' budgets have stayed flat while other expenses -- particularly the costs for health care and fuel -- have risen, prompting some districts to cut teaching jobs.
About 1,934 teaching positions went unfilled or were eliminated in the 2002-03 school year because of budget constraints, school districts reported last fall.
Officials from 139 districts told the state they anticipated eliminating or leaving unfilled about 477 positions this school year because of budget woes, the state education department said.
The Lawrence school district trimmed about 13 teaching positions this year. In nearby Topeka, 38 teaching positions were cut as part of an effort to slash $5 million from the budget.
The Shawnee Mission school district in suburban Kansas City cut 24 teaching jobs, including six positions from a school that closed. The cuts saved the district $1.4 million, said Leigh Anne Neal, a spokeswoman for the district,
Three years ago, the Kansas City, Kan., school district started classes with 86 vacancies. This year, "we've hardly had any vacancies," said district spokesman Carroll Macke, partly because of budget cuts that have resulted in job cuts and partly because of programs that encourage teachers to work in the district.
The reduction in teacher vacancies is a mixture of good and bad news for the district.
"When you can start the school year with fewer unfilled positions it's good news," Macke said. "It means you have qualified teachers in the classroom and not a sub."
But as teaching vacancies have shrunk, the district's student-teacher ratio has increased by one pupil.
"When you have fewer teachers and your class size is getting larger, that has an effect on student achievement," Macke said.