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Updated Aug 3, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Arizona struggles with few established teachers

PHOENIX -- Arizona has been grappling with a shortage of established teachers in public schools across the state, according to education officials.

Large numbers of new teachers and teachers getting ready to retire have left a gap of experienced classroom instructors, the Arizona Capitol Times reported this week.

The Arizona Department of Education said the agency has compiled data showing thousands of the state's teachers have left in the past five years. The Greater Phoenix Education Management Council, a coalition of 42 Arizona school districts, estimates that 72,000 employees left the Arizona State Retirement System before reaching retirement. The education department reported an annual teacher retention rate of about 65 percent.

Paul Stanton, superintendent of the Humboldt Unified School District in Prescott Valley, said the teacher shortage will be felt eventually in the state's economy.

``When a business comes into the community, they look at the teacher turnover rate, they look at the teacher salaries, they look at the factors that impact having great educators in the classroom,'' Stanton said.

Dianne Smith, executive director of council, said the group found more than 100,000 public school employees in the Arizona State Retirement System. Furthermore, the group calculated that 25,000 Baby Boomers will face retirement age in the next five years.

The shortage will only get worse as those Baby Boomer-age teachers retire, educators said.

Superintendents at Arizona schools say low pay and no raises are causing the mass exodus.

``Nobody was ever going to get rich being a teacher, but they could at least make a living of it,'' said Debbie Burdick, Cave Creek Unified School District superintendent.

According to Smith, the council took their findings to the Governor's Office, legislators and the Department of Education. The department drafted a 15-member education and retention task force in April as a result. Cecilia Johnson, an associate deputy superintendent in the department, said the task force is researching the problem nationally and locally. The group plans to announce recommendations to the State Board of Education and lawmakers by Sept. 30, Johnson said.

``While there is probably not any magic bullet, there are a variety of ways we can look at this,'' Johnson said.

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Information from: Arizona Capitol Times, http://www.arizonacapitoltimes.com

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