By David Bitton

Despite teachers receiving an average $6,100 pay raise this school year following a nine-day walkout in April, the number of emergency teaching certifications continues getting worse.

The state Board of Education approved 916 additional emergency certifications at Thursday's monthly board meeting, bringing the current total to a record 2,153.

By contrast, only 32 emergency teaching certifications were issued seven years ago.

"Unfortunately, this problem was self-inflicted," said Koln Knight, superintendent at Cushing Public Schools, where seven teachers have emergency certification. "Over the last several years, our state leadership has supported an environment that has essentially devalued the profession. This negative trend has become much more than just a funding issue. College students are not choosing education as a profession, therefore this shortage will certainly continue to grow."

Oklahoma remains ranked among the worst in the country for amount spent per student.

When district's can't fill an opening with a certified teacher, a two-year emergency certificate can be given to an individual who passes a criminal background check and passes a test in the subject area they plan to teach.

Coyle Public Schools had two teachers with emergency certification last year -- its first ever -- and has one this year because the other completed the steps to become certified.

In the 15 years Superintendent Josh Sumrall has been an administrator in Coyle, he said they once received 50 applications for a teaching position, but in the past three years he has had some openings and no applicants.

"We have had to contact candidates that we know in other districts to offer positions," Sumrall said.

Touting their four-day school week has been a helpful recruiting tool, Sumrall said.

While Coyle was able to fill all its open positions, Sumrall said the district did hire a teacher that started this month, but won't graduate from college with his teaching degree until December.

"That is another first for me as an administrator," Sumrall said.

At Morrison Public Schools, Superintendent Jay Vernon said there are two teachers using the emergency certification path to become certified.

Vernon said that student loan debt and increased cost of living are also issues that keep people from entering the teaching profession.

We are starting to see the effects of the teacher shortage and it is scary since we are so close to OSU," Vernon said. "Teacher raises should help increase the number of applicants but may take some time to realize the progress. All professions pay top dollar to attract what they feel is the very best so why shouldn't education try to do the same?"

Stillwater Public Schools -- the largest district locally with roughly 6,000 students and 420 certified staff -- has three people with emergency teaching certifications.

But the district is still looking for two certified teachers more than one week after school began on Aug. 16.

A special education teacher is needed at both Stillwater Middle School and Skyline Elementary.

"This is not common," said Michael Shanahan, human resources director for Stillwater Public Schools. "We usually have the positions filled before school starts."

Last week, Stillwater High filled a leadership teaching position and Richmond Elementary hired for a keyboarding job. The district is still looking to hire a certified music teacher, who would split time between Richmond and Skyline Elementary Schools.

The district has several other support and extra-duty job openings, which can be found at stillwaterschools.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx.

Neither Mullhall-Orlando nor Glencoe Public Schools have any emergency certified teachers this year.

John Lazenby, superintendent in Glencoe, said that while he hasn't had to hire a teacher using an emergency certification in his 11 years with the district, he did hire three new certified staff this year, which is the largest turnover he has experienced.

Emergency teaching certifications went from one last year to five this year at Perkins-Tryon Public Schools.

"We try to hire the best qualified person for the position," said Superintendent James Ramsey.

The struggle doesn't end with teachers as Perkins-Tryon Public Schools had to consolidate rural bus routes and cancel in-town stops because they are short five qualified bus drivers. The district is also looking for a crossing guard.

"We'd hire them if we could find them," Ramsey said.

Yale Public Schools is still looking for a certified kindergarten teacher, more than two weeks after the school year began on Aug. 9.

"We received zero qualified applicants," Superintendent Dale Bledsoe said. "We would hire a qualified applicant if we found one."

The district has one emergency certified teacher.

"I was very appreciative of what the legislatures did by giving the teachers a much needed pay raise but more money is needed for operating expenses," Bledsoe said.

Over the past three years, Bledsoe saved up money to buy middle school science books, high school math books and reading curriculum for pre-kindergarteners through eighth-graders.

"It is the first time anyone eighth-grade and down has ever touched a new text book," Bledsoe said.

(c)2018 the Stillwater NewsPress (Stillwater, Okla.)