English, elementary teachers getting harder to find in Kansas

? The Kansas State Department of Education has released its list of the top five hard-to-fill teaching positions in Kansas, and it includes a few surprise entries.

Besides high school and middle school math and science teachers, which are perennially in short supply, the Kansas list also includes two fields that used to have ample supplies: elementary classroom teachers and middle school English language arts teachers.

Rick Ginsberg, dean of the Kansas University School of Education, said he was especially surprised to see elementary teachers listed.

“I think that is largely location specific,” he said. “Many rural communities are really struggling with finding people, but I am also hearing from larger districts that they aren’t getting the number of elementary applications they did in the past.”

Top 5 Hard-to-Fill Teaching Positions in Kansas

• English Language and Literature (Junior/Middle School)

• Life and Physical Sciences (Secondary)

• Elementary Classroom Teacher

• Mathematics (Junior/Middle)

• Mathematics (Secondary)

The list is important because under a new state law, school districts are now allowed to rehire retired teachers to fill those positions, if they are willing to pay a surcharge into the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

Previously, retired teachers who were collecting monthly KPERS benefits could go to work for a different school district. Or, if they chose to work in their old district, they could only earn up to $20,000 before they had to terminate their employment or forego their KPERS payments.

Under the new law, school districts can rehire special education teachers or teachers in any of the other top five shortage areas. During the time the retired teacher is working, though, the district must pay an additional 8 percent of that teacher’s salary into KPERS to compensate the pension system for what it otherwise would have received if the district had hired a nonretired teacher.

The Lawrence school district did not experience a shortage of teachers in those five areas this year, and thus did not need to take advantage of the new law, district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said.

The Kansas State Board of Education will be asked to officially approve that list when it meets Tuesday at the department’s headquarters, 900 SW Jackson, in Topeka. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. and is streamed live on the department’s website.

Also Tuesday, the state board will receive several reports and presentations, including an update on development of a new model for accrediting schools.

That new model is expected to be based on the new system of accountability that the state now uses under its federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. That new system sets individual targets for each district to achieve in improving the overall academic performance of students and closing the achievement gaps between racial, ethnic and economic subgroups.

The board will also receive an update on the 2015 state assessments in math and English language arts that were administered last spring. Details on how students performed at different grade levels within individual districts is expected to be released later this year.