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Northwest Arkansas districts seek new employees in preparation for school year

by Mary Jordan | July 19, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
Jacki Gustin (left), human resources administrative assistants, talks with newly hired math teacher Brielle Myers on Wednesday July 14 2021 at the Rogers school administration building. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

School districts are working to fill necessary positions before the 2021-22 school year, administrators said.

Bentonville, Fort Smith and Rogers all have needs in the area of special education, according to administrators.

"This is in line with state and national trends," said Christina Williams, Fort Smith School District public information coordinator. "However, at this point, we are in very good shape for next school year with these positions."

Fort Smith is working to fill four special education teacher positions, while Bentonville and Rogers have 12 positions and one position open, respectively, administrators said.

Districts face the challenge of relatively small applicant pools for meeting special education needs, administrators said.

It also takes time to find the best applicants to fill all of the positions, said Leslee Wright, Bentonville communications director.

"We want to make sure we have the right person for every position we hire in our district," Wright said.

The salary range for teachers in Fort Smith is $38,500 to $70,720, according to the district's certified staff salary schedule. Pay for teachers in Bentonville spans from $46,633 to $74,182, according to an Arkansas Department of Education salary analysis.

Springdale offers the highest average teacher salaries in the state at a range of $48,282 to $76,782, according to the analysis. Rogers is second at $47,250 to $76,605, said Roger Hill, assistant superintendent for human resources. Fayetteville is third at $46,450 to $76,042, according to the analysis.

Springdale has 21 open teaching positions at all grade levels, said Superintendent Jared Cleveland.

Rogers is also working toward filling one school psychology specialist, one elementary math facilitator and one Spanish and one math teacher position, Hill said.

A limited applicant pool makes filling school psychology positions challenging as well, he said.

Fayetteville is seeking to fill six teaching positions and 20 student support positions, said Greg Mones, human resources director.

The district is in greatest need of filling the student support positions, he said. Student support employees analyze student learning data to provide targeted plans to help students address learning loss related to the covid-19 pandemic, Mones said.

Timing and funding both complicate filling the positions, he said.

"The funding is just now becoming available to us and, unfortunately, we are toward the end of the hiring season for certified positions," he said. "Therefore, most teachers have already entered into an agreement with their current school district."

Money for the positions is also only available through the American Rescue Plan pandemic recovery funds for the next two years, Mones said.

"There is the possibility that these positions may not be funded after the 2022-2023 school year," he said.

Making connections with graduating college students who may be interested in education careers locally was also hampered by the pandemic, he said.

"Colleges either canceled their recruiting or switched to an online recruiting platform," Mones said. "On a positive note, this summer we have been able to conduct most of our interviews in-person. Last summer, all of our interviews were conducted virtually."

There are signs the applicant pool is recovering, Wright said.

"Teachers and potential candidates are more confident and ready to adopt this new normal," she said of teaching at this point in the pandemic.

Bentonville has about 2,300 employees, Fayetteville has about 1,450, Fort Smith has about 2,060, Rogers has about 2,060 and Springdale has about 3,000, according to administrators.

The pandemic didn't have a significant impact on employee retirements and resignations, administrators said.

Bentonville had about 276 retirements and resignations in the 2020-21 school year, compared to 292 in 2019-20, Wright said.

Fort Smith had 68 employees retire or resign in the 2019-20 school year, compared to 67 in 2020-21, Williams said.

"We imagine that the pandemic did play a part in the decisions of some who have separated from the district, but we do not have any data to support that assumption," she said.

Rogers didn't provide information on district retirements and resignations. Retirements and resignations in Springdale were lower than previous years in 2020-21, Cleveland said, but he was unable to provide specific numbers.

Thirty employees retired or resigned from Fayetteville in the 2019-20 school year, Mones said, compared to 22 in 2020-21.

"There is a feeling that the district has done a good job maintaining a safe working and learning environment throughout the pandemic," he said of staff retention during the pandemic. "This coupled with a 94% vaccination rate of our staff is encouraging to many that FPS will continue to be a safe place for work and learning."

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Source: NWA Democrat-Gazette

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