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Housing not big problem with teachers

Housing in Pearl River County is growing, and while most of it may not be affordable for the beginning teacher the main problem with getting those new teachers into local school systems seems to be a lack of graduating student teachers from surrounding colleges.

That lack of affordable housing and the scarcity of graduating student teachers could pose a problem if the schools in the county need to replace any of the currently filled positions in the coming years.

The school system that seems to be most affected by lack of affordable housing is Pearl River Central. Superintendent Dennis Penton said that he had a few applicants earlier in the school year who were interested in teaching in the district but once they discovered the high housing prices they had to decline the offer.

“We’re having trouble attracting new teachers to come to the area to teach,” Penton said.

Picayune School District Interim Superintendent Brent Harrell said at the beginning of the school year there were about three teachers that were hired in his district but they could not find an affordable home.

“Consequently they resigned before the school year started,” Harrell said.

Poplarville Superintendent Gilda Fitzpatrick said she has not noticed a shortage of teachers due to housing. The only time there was a problem was when one teacher had to stay in a hotel because of a lack of housing, but currently Poplarville’s close proximity to Hattiesburg gives her teachers more options on where to live.

Penton said the prices houses are going for in his district since Hurricane Katrina are out of a beginning teacher’s salary. In addition gas prices keep most teachers who live outside the county from commuting, he said.

Currently all three districts report a full staff of teachers but two, Picayune and Pearl River Central, say they need more uncertified personnel such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Penton said that other jobs, such as fast food, are keeping the uncertified positions from being filled in his district since they are offering more pay per hour. The only thing the school system has to offer are better benefits but people are more concerned about the pay they take home, Penton said. The licensing fee for bus drivers would be covered by the Pearl River Central School District if they are hired, Penton said. Harrell said he too is having problems getting bus drivers into his district since there is competition for those with the proper licenses to do clean up work or construction, which pay more than school districts can offer.

Penton said another major problem with getting qualified teachers in to the school system is the lack of graduates from the nearby colleges, mostly in the Math and Science areas.

“I can’t hire them if they are not there,” Penton said.

Other school districts in the county have noticed the same thing. Harrell said he expects a teacher shortage because he has noticed a decreasing number of student teachers. Harrell said teacher students are students who are completing the final part of their degree program to become teachers. In previous years Picayune had about 14 student teachers, but this year there are only three or four.

There is little the school districts can do to combat the problem with raises. Penton said even though each district has the capability to give locally subsidized raises on top of the state salary teachers receive, they can not afford to pay more than they already are. Penton said he is also hoping the high price of housing is only temporary.

Even though he has a full staff, next year Penton said he expects to have to hire teachers since some will retire some will move on to other locations and he will also need to accommodate the increasing student population with added classes. Harrell said there may be help on the way to pay the teachers more. Apparently governor Haley Barbour has proposed a budget that has state funded teacher raises in it. However Barbour still needs to present that budget to the legislature for approval, Harrell said.

Fitzpatrick said that Poplarville School District did give locally funded raises to all of their staff after the storm but only to stay competitive with the coastal school districts. Poplarville also has a full staff but they will need a new band director soon, she said.