Teacher shortage is a ‘crisis,’ N.J. state legislators say after educators raise alarm

Published: Feb. 22, 2022

More than two dozen educators raised alarms about declining interest in teaching and other jobs in public schools during a hearing Tuesday with New Jersey state legislators.

Speakers told the Joint Committee on Public Schools that applications have been slipping for at least a decade and the nearly two-year-long coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the downward trend, resulting in administrators scrambling to cover vacant positions inside and outside of classrooms.

Several changes were suggested, including a bill currently being considered in Trenton that would exempt teachers and other school district employees from the state residency requirement for at least the next three years.

Others spoke of enhancing incentives, such as college loan forgiveness programs or raising starting salaries.

The impact, all agreed, is being felt in the classroom.

Todd Pipkin, a high school special education teacher in Paterson, discussed his experiences.

“Many of the students that enter the ninth grade are below grade level in reading and math. The pandemic has made this worse. The impact of the teacher shortages will only expand the student achievement gap as time progresses,” Pipkin told the panel.

Heather Moran, principal of Logan Township Middle School, discussed her staffing challenges, including having just one counselor for the school’s 371 students — a situation that she said has contributed to additional disciplinary infractions.

“I truly hoped this school year would be a return to normalcy. In many ways, this year has been more challenging than last year,” Moran told the panel during an online-only hearing that lasted for more than two hours.

Anthony Scotto, director of curriculum and instruction for the Hamilton school district, said additional teachers are taking leaves to care for family members, typically a parent or child, while others are choosing to resign before qualifying for full retirement and seeking a new career.

“The need is greater than the ability to fill. Yes, there are times when we can secure a candidate, but not every time,” Scotto said.

Scotto proposed expediting the approval process for teaching certificates, including for substitutes, and working with colleges to boost enrollment in their teaching programs.

“With the shortage of staff, or a lack of applicants, I worry that the breadth of what I’m offering may start to decline,” Scotto said.

Sharon Krengel, policy and outreach director at the Education Law Center in Newark, discussed the importance of improving diversity in seeking to attract and retain teachers.

“By diversifying the teacher workforce, we improve outcomes for students,” Krengel said.

David Miceli, the schools superintendent of New Providence, also spoke of grappling with additional vacancies amid fewer candidates.

“COVID certainly exacerbated this,” Miceli said, though the trend began more than a decade ago.

“We’ve watched the various, longstanding benefits get chipped away for the new generation as they come in,” Miceli said, referring to school district employees paying much-higher fees for health benefits than a decade ago.

The committee’s chairperson, Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey, said the issues being raised by the speakers will remain a focus.

“We have been seeing this crisis building,” Jasey, D-27th District, said at the meeting.

Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly, D-35th District, who works for the joint recreation coordinator for the Paterson school district, said staffing shortages extend to positions such as security staff and lunch monitors.

“You just take for granted those people will be there,” Wemberly said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-02-23 02:57:15 -0800