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Physics teachers hard to find in NY

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DEXTER — Competition — it’s what General Brown Central School District, and other rural schools throughout the state, have working against them to fill science teaching positions.

The pool of qualified science teachers available in rural areas, particularly for physics, is decreasing for two reasons: affluent districts often offer a higher salary, and other physics-related career fields that require a master’s degree pay more than what teachers make, according to Carl D. Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, a federation of more than 1,200 unions in the state.

“Districts like General Brown and others in the north country — when they’re looking for physics teachers, they’re not just in competition with other districts; they’re in competition with the private sector,” Mr. Korn said. “Add to that now we’re talking about a half-time position. The pool of professionals with physics degrees looking for part-time work in the north country is going to be pretty small. Unfortunately, what we see more of is districts eliminating positions entirely.”

He was right. A local and statewide search for a part-time physics teacher for General Brown resulted in only two applicants. One person was offered the job, but declined. The district recently scaled back the position from full-time, in an effort to cut costs as it heads toward financial insolvency.

Fifty students were registered for the course, but when school starts today they will be taking a different science course to help them achieve their advanced Regents diploma for graduation.

Mr. Korn said part-time employment always has been offered throughout the state, and many districts have shared positions with other schools to create full-time employment for people. For that to work, another local district also would have had to be looking for a part-time physics teacher. That was not the case.

Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Jack J. Boak said he’s recently seen an uptick in local school districts opting for part-time teachers, which is a “rather new phenomenon for us.”

Many school districts, particularly rural ones such as General Brown, face educational insolvency because they also face financial insolvency. A 2012 consultation report showed General Brown may be broke by 2015, but it has the ability — as do other districts — to overcome some financial strife by putting a budget that includes a tax levy increase higher than the state tax cap up for vote by district residents.

Increased taxation to save programs may be a solution, but General Brown voters proved this spring it was not the answer they were looking for. A 9.9 percent increase in its tax levy, well above its tax cap of 5.38 percent, was voted down 806-580. If 26 people who voted “no” had voted “yes” instead, that large increase would have passed, as it would have met the minimum 60 percent approval required to pass a tax levy increase above the tax cap.

The end result is slashing programs.

With about 700 school districts throughout the state, Mr. Korn said, it would be difficult to track the number of full-time positions that have been reduced to half-time or part-time.

“Part-time is very difficult,” Mr. Boak said. “If a job is part-time and you’re a certified physics teacher, you’ll get a full-time job. There is a recruiting service many of our districts participate in, and what BOCES does is gather vacancies from districts throughout the state. That’s a good indication of the extent of the shortages because it is statewide.”

Mr. Boak said General Brown was the only one of its 18 component school districts to request a part-time science teacher.

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