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Dickinson coming up short on teachers: DPS to have 24 open positions

Teachers: please apply.

Dickinson may be known for its plentiful number of jobs during this latest oil boom, but Dickinson Public Schools will soon be adding to that number at the end of the school year.

Between opening a new school and teachers leaving or retiring, the school system will have 24 open positions for next school year, said Vince Reep, DPS assistant superintendent.

"We're pretty optimistic that even though at this time we have 24 teaching openings that we'll be able to fill all of those with good, quality staff members," he said.

The most worrisome jobs to be left open for the district are three full-time and one part-time speech language pathologist positions, Reep said.

"The state had over 35 openings in speech language pathology and the state isn't producing any of these people," he said. "That area is of grave concern."

The school district has traditionally had one speech pathologist position in each building, Reep said -- more than required by law.

"We have already told our remaining speech language path people that they probably will have more than one building to service," he said.

The district had 32 teaching positions open at the end of the 2011-12 school year, Reep said.

One of the biggest challenges the school district has faced when recruiting new teachers is the cost of housing, especially for new teachers, who start at $35,100 per year, he said. That is expected to go up when the collective bargaining process is done, likely to around $37,000 per year, but nothing has been decided.

"We'd like to have it much higher but there's only so much money, too," Reep said, "especially with the state controlling most of the funding."

The state average starting teacher's salary in North Dakota is $32,000, but districts can pay as little as $22,500. The legal limit was set 10 years ago.

Last week the North Dakota Education Association called on the Legislature the raise the minimum to the state average, according to a press release.

Many oil field worker spouses are teachers, Reep said. Last year, 10 of the 32 new teachers were from nine states.

"That helps when the spouse has a job -- if it's in the energy sector, then they already have a place to live," he said. "It's a concern."

There are many student loan breaks available for teachers in North Dakota, including a student loan forgiveness program through the North Dakota University System for anyone teaching in the state, regardless of where they earned their education.

Teachers in 16 shortage areas -- art, business and office technology/business education, career clusters, English as a second language, English language arts, family and consumer sciences, health careers, information technology, languages/Native American languages, marketing education, mathematics, music, science, social studies, special education programing and trade and industrial education -- can apply for the Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program beginning April 1.

Teachers are eligible after one year of teaching to reduce student loan indebtedness by $1,000 per year up to a maximum of three years.

"(The state of North Dakota does) really aim to help students with their higher education costs," said Gina Padilla, assistant director of financial aid for NDUS. "As far as how much debt students incur while they're in college depends a lot on the different programs they go into and their own financial situations."

In the 2011-12 school year, 368 teachers utilized the program, according to a document provided by NDUS. The average student loan debt of applicants was $11,626.

The average student loan debt for the class of 2011 in North Dakota was $27,425, said Sandy Klein, director of financial aid at Dickinson State University. Of all graduates that year, 83 percent had student debt.

There are other programs for teachers and others to help relieve student debt, Klein said.

To qualify for many of the student loan forgiveness programs, educators must teach in low-income, high-need areas which are determined in North Dakota by the Department of Public Instruction, she said.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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