The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District wants to attract special-education teachers to the 3,900-student system and is banking on a new $4,500 signing bonus -- paid over three years -- and a $2,500 annual stipend to be the draw.
The district's School Board voted 7-0 for the signing bonus at its regular monthly meeting Monday night.
The money would be paid in $750 installments -- two payments per year for three years -- to each state licensed special-education teacher who goes to work for the district, which currently has seven vacant special-education teaching positions.
Tiffany Bone, the district's assistant superintendent for secondary curriculum and student services, told the board that the district is in "dire straits" in regard to finding state-licensed special-education teachers to fill the four vacancies at Jacksonville High and three at Jacksonville Middle School.
"They are not coming out of college and we aren't seeing special-education teachers at the job fairs that we go to," Bone said, adding that the district will use the signing bonus to enhance the district's relatively lower teacher salaries and "steal" qualified educators away from other school systems.
"I don't know how else to put it," she said about the plan that she also called "a second carrot."
The signing bonus comes on top of an annual $2,500 stipend that the district began paying special-education teachers already on staff in the school year that just ended.
Current special-education teachers who are getting the stipend aren't eligible for the signing bonus -- only those who are new hires to the district will be eligible, Superintendent Bryan Duffie said at a break in the meeting. Those new hires will also be entitled to the annual stipend.
To attain the second $750 payment in a school year, the teacher must commit to teaching in the district in the following year, Duffie said.
"We'll see if it helps," he added about the plan.
Arkansas school districts do have some initial flexibility to hire teachers for special-education positions who are licensed in subjects other than special education.
Those employees typically have three years to acquire a state license in special education.
However, if a teacher leaves the job after only one or two years without completing the special-education licensure program -- and that has happened in Jacksonville -- the next teacher hired without a special-education license has only one or two years to attain the special-education licensure, Bone said.
In other words, a special-education class cannot go without a licensed special-education teacher for more than three years, .
Ava Coleman, a member of the Jacksonville board, asked if the state has provided financial help for hiring teachers who work with students who have special-education needs.
Duffie said that the state has provided different pathways to licensure but no funds specifically for special-education teachers.
Special-education positions are difficult to fill across the state and nation. The Arkansas Board of Education in May designated special-education teachers for kindergarten through 12th grades as a "critical academic shortage area for the coming school year.
However it is one of about a dozen shortage areas. Other critical teacher shortages in the state are in the subjects of art, agriculture, chemistry, computer science, English/language arts, family and consumer science, French, library/media, math, music, physics and Spanish.
Teachers in shortage areas may be entitled to financial incentives, according to Arkansas law.
Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board approval of the special-education signing bonus comes in the aftermath of the School Board vote in April to give all district employees a general pay raise and a $500 bonus in the upcoming 2019-20 school year -- their first general raise since the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district was established in July 2016.
The district's starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience will be $38,500 in the coming year, up from $38,000 this past school year. The top salary for a teacher with at least 28 years of experience and a master's degree plus 30 additional education hours will be $58,000.
Many of the district's current teachers will receive increases of as much as $1,550 in pay -- the $500 bonus to be paid in September, a $500 increase to each spot on the salary schedule and a $50 increase to what has been a $500 step increase that eligible teachers receive annually for their additional year of experience. However, the district's most veteran teachers are ineligible for step increases.
The district's support service employees will see raises of about 1.3%, capped at $500, in the coming year, according to the School Board's action in April.
Metro on 06/04/2019