There are 372 job vacancies in the Hartford Public School District – that’s 11 percent of the number of teachers and staff needed to best operate the 46 schools that comprise the district, according to Jesse Sugarman, Senior Advisor for Strategy and Institutional Advancement at the Hartford Public Schools.
In a pre-COVID year, the district nearly always filled about 95 percent of teaching and staff positions, Sugarman said.
It’s a problem that isn’t unique to Hartford.
According to the National Education Association, in February 2022, “55 percent of teachers said that the pandemic is pushing them to plan on leaving the profession sooner than they’d originally planned.”
And not just teachers – school districts in Connecticut are lacking in staff and administrators at all levels. In Hartford, the most needed positions are Technology Education, Bilingual Education, Blind and Deaf supports, Math and Science, School Psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologist, Spanish Education and Special Education.
The challenge, according to Sugarman, is that educators are often able to easily find a higher paying job elsewhere.
To take this problem head on, Hartford – and several other districts in Connecticut – are offering financial incentives to current employees to remain in their jobs.
“At the end of this academic year, each full-time employee will receive a $750 incentive, and each part-time employee will receive a $250 incentive. In an effort to increase retention, full and part time employees who return for the 2022-2023 school year will receive an additional larger bonus,” according to a Hartford Public School District press release.
“The first incentive is a gratitude bonus to thank our teachers and staff for the year that they had. We didn’t anticipate this year being as difficult as it was,” said Sugarman. “The other part of it is that we are actively hiring, recruiting and working to retain our teachers. As the best candidates are looking for jobs we want to use every tool at our disposal.”
According to Sugarman, Hartford Public Schools have never offered a retention bonus in the past. This bonus – which is at least $1000 for all certified and health professionals and $500 for non-certified staff – is meant to target the most-needed positions.
“We are also giving higher signing bonuses to the high need categories,” Sugarman said. These bonuses amount to as much as $5,000.
Hartford is also adding a “personalize your room bonus” that Sugarman said no other district has yet used.
“We want to give money so teachers can add their personality to their room,” he said.
Although Hartford Public School teacher salaries are not quite the pay of Fairfield County Public Schools – the average starting salary in Hartford is $49,516 while it is $53,016 in Greenwich – the district offers other perks including reimbursement for student loans and a 3 percent salary increase for teachers living in the city.
On the state level, Connecticut is also also attempting to expand the pool of applicants by broadening eligibility as of April 21 to teachers and staff with equivalent certification from Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.
“This reciprocity recognition statement will accomplish two core goals of the administration: increasing the appeal of moving to Connecticut and increasing the diversity of our educator workforce,” said Gov. Ned Lamont in a press release about the reciprocity program. “We look forward to continuing to welcome educators from the Northeast and Puerto Rico to share their talent and expertise in Connecticut schools and communities.”
According to the state Department of Education the expanded reciprocity program is here to stay.
“It is meant to stay in place well into the future however, not just pandemic related,” said Eric Scoville, spokesperson for the Department of Education. “It will assist greatly with difficulties hiring teachers.”
With a student population that is 55 percent Hispanic, and bilingual and Spanish education being two of the most needed types of positions, Hartford launched its own recruitment program targeting Puerto Rico.
“Through our Paso a Paso program we recruited 17 teachers from Puerto Rico to Hartford Public Schools this year,” Sugarman said.
Given senior school leadership ties to Puerto Rico, Sugarman said the district intends to continue specifically recruiting from the island for teachers in all departments – not just Spanish and bilingual education.