Schools push to fill out payrolls
Pitting higher salaries against long commutes, districts continue to rob each other of talent in the annual last-minute scramble to fill open positions on school payrolls.
Greenwich Public Schools filled two of its key openings this month, taking administrators from Stamford and Bridgeport, leaving those districts with more holes to fill before kids start coming back to school. This annual contest of musical chairs pits the high pay of wealthy communities, where expensive housing can be a stretch on a teacher's salary, against the affordability and ease of commute offered in less affluent districts.
Stamford Public Schools, which lost its chief information officer last week, said its focus is on teachers, though it is likely the $133,800 a year job will eventually be filled.
Stamford's former CIO, Phillip Dunn, left to take a $157,700 position as Greenwich's technology manager last week.
"We're focused on filling our teaching positions," said Fay Ruotolo, Stamford's interim human resources director. She said that although the CIO position is important, it will likely be filled at a later date. The district has other staff members and can rely on the city's technology department to cover its needs in the short term, she said.
While competition for talent within the state is heating up, the districts here in Southwestern Connecticut continue to face the problem of finding workers willing to commute into the area. Zillow.com estimates the median sales price for homes in both Stamford and Norwalk is more than $400,000 last month, and the median for homes in Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan was more than $1 million. The median rent in Greenwich was $4,600 a month, and about $2,000 a month in Stamford and Norwalk. Prices in Bridgeport and New Haven County were much lower.
The average teacher salary in Connecticut was more than $69,000 in 2012, according to a National Education Association report issued in December. However, salaries vary by district and entry level salaries can be more than $20,000 less than the average. As a result, teachers who move into administration positions might work for years in an affluent district but take jobs closer to home as they get older.
Last year, Danbury hired Bethel resident Edward Wachowski as its Stadley Rough Elementary School Principal. Wachowski started his career as a teacher in Greenwich and stayed there for 10 years before taking an administrative position in Norwalk and then finally landing the $112,000 job in Danbury.
With three weeks to go until school starts, Ruotolo said the district has filled 83 positions, with about six more to go. The district's website lists about 60 open positions, including coaches for a variety of sports. She said the commute into Stamford complicates recruitment. Congestion on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway can push commuting times to well over an hour from eastern Fairfield County towns just 30 miles away.
"Folks are not really interested in commuting if they don't have to," Ruotolo said. Another factor that complicates hiring is educators' spouses' jobs. With all the large companies in the area, corporate transfers especially can take married teachers away from the area.
Other districts are also working to fill positions. Norwalk had 34 positions open, including 15 teachers, according to the district's website. A call was not immediately returned from Norwalk. Darien has four openings listed on its website, including a Mandarin Chinese language teacher, and New Canaan had 14 listed on its website, but only one was a teaching position.
Greenwich Human Resources Director Robert Lichtenfeld said the district hired about 65 teachers this summer, down from 80 a year ago. There are a few vacancies but Greenwich is doing well, he said.
Greenwich is still looking for a middle school Spanish teacher, an American Sign Language teacher and various substitute positions.
The hardest part is finding language teachers and administrators, he said, noting that a foreign language teacher resigned just this week.
But the bigger issue is probably finding administrators, he said.
"The pool gets shallower and shallower every year," he said. "It's a national trend."
Lichtenfeld said some of the reasons it's becoming difficult is because the top salary a teacher can earn is not that far off from what an entry level administrator can make. Administrators are also under a lot more pressure these days and are logging more hours than they have in the past.
It doesn't always go Greenwich's way, Lichtenfeld said. Housing costs in lower Fairfield County can be prohibitive and sometimes the district loses experienced teachers to the districts in which those teachers have to live.
Younger people are willing to commute, he said, but as they get older, get married and start families, commuting to Greenwich or even Stamford can become problematic and those teachers and professionals look for work closer to home.