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One-quarter of Arizona teaching positions are vacant, report finds
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One-quarter of Arizona teaching positions are vacant, report finds

While teaching vacancies throughout Arizona continue to increase, Tucson’s largest school district continues to fill more open positions.

A quarter of teaching positions in Arizona are vacant, according to a survey released last week by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. Out of 209 school districts and charter schools that took part in the survey, there were 1,846 vacancies, 152 more than last year.

The statewide survey, seen as the most comprehensive look at teacher shortages in Arizona, also found that half the teaching positions are filled by teachers who do not meet the state’s certification requirements, equaling nearly 4,000 positions.

This means that only 23% of teaching positions statewide are filled with permanent teachers who meet the state’s certification requirements.

Bucking the state trend, the Tucson Unified School District began the school year with 26% fewer vacancies than the previous year and has continued that trend, according to numbers provided by the district. Pima County’s nine largest school districts, including TUSD, began the school year with 19% fewer vacancies than last year, at 142 open positions, the Arizona Daily Star found.

TUSD currently has 46 teacher vacancies, down from 62 at the beginning of the school year and 84 last year, according to the district.

“I don’t want to pat ourselves on the back for having almost 50 teacher vacancies,” Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said. “Any time that you don’t have a highly qualified teacher in the classroom, some young person is going without excellence in instruction. So it’s better, but it’s not good.”

Trujillo attributes the declining vacancies to teacher raises as well as a streamlined hiring process, more innovative leadership within schools, and a stronger student code of conduct, which alleviates teacher frustrations over disruptive students.

Statewide, nearly 1,000 teachers either abandoned or resigned from their teaching position during the first half of the school year, the survey found. Results indicate the ongoing need for an increase to education funding, the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association said in a news release.

On the heels of news that the state budget has a surplus upward of $750 million, Gov. Doug Ducey proposed accelerating the $371 million restoration of flexible dollars for public schools during his State of the State address on Monday, funding that was cut dramatically from 2008 to 2018. If approved by the Legislature, the full restoration will be two years ahead of schedule.

Districts and schools can use this money for things like curriculum, textbooks and building improvements, as well as staff salaries. About half of Tucson-area school districts use some of this money to subsidize teacher raises.

“In total, we’ve pumped $4.5 billion in new investments into Arizona schools,” Ducey said during the address. “With our latest budget, that figure will rise to $6.6 billion. And we’ve done all of this without raising taxes.”

In spite of additional funding over the past two years, Arizona teachers remain among the lowest-paid in the nation.

Pima County Superintendent Dustin Williams said filling all the teaching positions is hard when the governor is adamant about not raising taxes.

“Working in education is so incredibly difficult,” Williams said. “It’s hard to get people to come into an industry that doesn’t have a starting salary of $55,000 a year.”

Along with low wages, teachers often have to deal with other challenges caused by underfunding, like crowded classrooms, a shortage of aides and poorly maintained infrastructure, Williams said. But his main concern when it comes to vacancies is how it affects the emotional, mental and academic success of students.

“A student is only really successful when they have a full-time champion,” Williams said. “When you have substitutes in the classroom and you have the vacancies, you don’t build that trust. ... We have to keep the focus on the well-being of the student.”

Contact reporter Danyelle Khmara at dkhmara@tucson.com or 573-4223. On Twitter: @DanyelleKhmara

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Danyelle joined the Star in 2018 and covers K-12 education. Previously, Danyelle wrote for the Tucson Weekly where she won several statewide awards including story of the year and first place investigative reporting.

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