Like many school districts in the state, Oklahoma City Public Schools is in need of teachers, so administrators are looking across state lines for help.
Officials are touring the Midwest this spring in search of teachers who'd like to come to Oklahoma.
It's the first outreach effort of its kind by the district.
“We need to do something different,” Superintendent Karl Springer said.
Pay cited in shortage
The teacher shortage comes down to pay and funding, said Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.
Oklahoma ranks No. 48 nationally in teacher pay at $44,343. The national average is $55,623, according to the National Education Association.
The state ranks No. 45 in per-pupil spending at $6,859, according to the NEA. The national average is $8,062.
“Those are two pretty big things when you're coming out of college and you've got the whole United States to look at,” Hampton said.
It sends a message that Oklahoma doesn't value education, Hampton said.
“That doesn't really make you want to go into the teaching profession,” she said.
State law sets a minimum salary for teachers, but districts can pay more.
Pay goes up with education and experience.
The starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree is $31,600.
Oklahoma City Public Schools pays a little more — $32,925.
The national average is $35,672, according to the National Education Association.
On the other end of the pay scale, long-term teachers have a cap. Statewide, teachers who have 25 years of experience and a bachelor's degree can make $42,325.
In Oklahoma City, the top salary step for teachers with bachelor's degrees is $48,075, which is paid for 19 years or more of experience.
District switches approach to recruiting
Oklahoma City also is adding classrooms.
The district expanded its prekindergarten program, adding 30 pre-K classrooms a year. Special-education teachers are in particular demand as the number of graduates in the specialty has dwindled.
Demand for teachers outpaces the supply statewide, Springer said.
“That trend will continue,” the superintendent said. “That's why we're doing everything we can to counteract that shortage.”
This year, principals have started using Skype, an online video conferencing program, to interview teachers from across the country and around the world. Administrators signed contracts with interviewees on the spot at the teacher job fair.
The tour of the Midwest is another initiative, said Chuck Tompkins, executive director of human capital for the district.
The first trip, which starts Saturday, is to northern Iowa and Nebraska. Next month, officials will go to Colorado and then on to Cincinnati to recruit students from Ohio and Kentucky.
Right now, about 2 percent of teaching jobs are open in the district.
The goal is to come back from the tour with nearly all vacancies filled, Tompkins said.
One of the draws, Tompkins said, is the low cost of living.
Another plus is the job security in a state that is suffering a teacher drought.