From: Brent Larsen
To: Doug Sagers,
Subject: Teacher Shortage and the WPU
Date: Mon Feb 15 17:01:19 MST 2016
Dear Utah Representative,
Now that it is President's Day, I have the time to write you about a big concern of mine.  There is a growing crisis in America in general, and in Utah in particular.  Year after year, we read news articles stating that there is an actual decline in the numbers of college students who are enrolling in our teacher preparation courses.  With the population continuing to grow, we cannot afford to have the number of teachers to level off, let alone to decline!  I also read in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article titled "Utah needs teachers, but college students don't want to major in education," that half of our current teachers will be eligible for retirement by 2017.  That's only a year away!  
I have witnessed this crisis first hand at my school site.  There have been a number of times when I have been invited (without any monetary compensation, I might add) to be a part of the interviewing team to help fill an open teaching position.  In past years, there have been a plethora of applicants.  The principal has been able to narrow the list to a select few highly qualified applicants.  We have then interviewed these applicants, and would have been pleased to have hired each and every one of them.  We then discussed which of these applicants we felt would be the best fit for our school.  Our principal checked references, and then extended an offer of employment to the best candidate, while offering encouragement to those who were not selected for the position.  
Recently, however, the process has been very different.  Some positions have received no applicants, and have had to be left unfilled for a time while the principal has called colleges, retirees, and anyone else who could possibly be qualified to teach.  Other positions have had only a couple of applicants, and when we have interviewed those candidates, we were left wondering if we would be better off giving one of them a shot, knowing that they would require substantial support in running a classroom full of students, or if we should start over looking for different candidates, knowing how few are available.  Rather than being able to choose the best of the best, we are left accepting the mediocre.  
Additionally, where we used to have a few teachers leave the school each year, we have recently had to replace over 25% of the school staff in a given year!  Some retire.  Others leave the profession.  Still others move to higher paying jobs, whether it be at the district office, a more affluent district, or another state. 
Some people suggest that until we have better results, teachers don't deserve more money.  This backwards thinking only makes the problem worse.  It's like saying that if you don't like the results your 401K is getting in the stock market, you are going to keep changing financial advisers -- each time to one less experienced -- until you are hiring recent high school drop outs to manage your money for you.  This isn't a strategy at all.
What do you propose be done to address this crisis?  The UEA is advocating for a 5% increase to the WPU.  Governor Herbert has proposed that 4.75% be added to the WPU.  From what I have read online, many of your colleagues want to add a mere 2.5% to the WPU.  This is an outrage!  Do you realize what this will mean for the teachers?  Insurance costs will eat up the vast majority of the funds, leaving little to no money for a COLA increase, effectively reducing the wages for the teachers.  This erosion of the wage is one of the major factors that is contributing to the teacher shortage! 
While spending money on technology for schools, or other specific projects is admirable, it is counterproductive to spend on wants when the needs aren't being met.  I think it would be great if I could afford to fly my family to Washington D.C. and to take them to the museums and government buildings there, or to take them to see the National Parks around the country, or to do any number of other worthwhile activities with them.  However, I can't afford those things.  I need to stay within my budget to make sure that I can put food on the table and to help them save a little bit to help with their college expenses.  
Similarly, I don't see how the legislature can justify spending such huge sums on all of these wonderful line item programs, while ignoring the fact that we need to worry about the basics first.  No the basics don't get a lot of fanfare, and yes, they are expensive, but without focusing on the basics, you end up with a crisis like the teacher shortage that we are now confronted with.  If you ever played a sport, you know that focusing on the basics is also what any good coach will do to help a team to win a championship.  Please be a champion for our public schools and do everything you can to increase the WPU as much as possible.  
Brent Larsen
55 W. 400 S.
Tooele, UT
 (435) 843-9514