Sacramento City Unified School District has begun filling special education teacher positions with Filipino teachers because it can’t find enough qualified teachers to take on the demanding job.
“We’ve exhausted all options of recruiting teachers locally,” said district spokesman Alex Barrios. “We’ve tried to recruit special-ed teachers here in Sacramento as well as throughout the state and nation. Unfortunately we still came up with some vacancies, so these are some very hard to fill positions in special ed.”
Working with a recruiter, the district settled on the Philippines as "a perfect fit" for its schools, as English is widely spoken there and school curriculum is similar to that of American schools, Barrios said.
The Sacramento City Teachers Association, which represents district employees, criticized the decision to import teachers, saying the problem is "a crisis of its own making."
“I’ve never heard of other districts going halfway across the globe to recruit teachers,” said David Fisher, teacher association president. He said Sac City district’s need to do so demonstrates its failure to offer adequate pay, benefits and working conditions.
The association maintains that the district is in the best financial condition of its history, with $98 million in reserve from not filling open positions and not spending all funds budgeted for things like books and supplies.
“The district is perpetuating this crisis by underpaying and undervaluing current teachers and not improving the working conditions and the learning conditions of our students,” Fisher said, adding that the district has more than 120 open positions, and expects there will be more than 200 by the start of the school year.
Barrios said there are now 118 open positions, and he doesn't know how the teachers association arrived at the 200 figure. He also noted that other cities, including Las Vegas, Nevada, have hired teachers from the Philippines.
Barrios said the association’s criticism are unfounded, citing teacher compensation packages worth an average of $91,000 in pay and benefits. He blamed the association in part for failing to work with the district on recruitment efforts. Addressing the teachers association claims of the district's excess reserve, Barrios said pension benefits for retired employees are a big drain on the district's resources.
While the Filipino teachers recruited so far have been successful, the plan is only a short term solution, Barrios added.
The district has begun working with California State University Sacramento on a program to find interested students to become qualified special education teachers.
“We want to identify before they even graduate who might be interested in this specific career path,” Barrios said. “We want them to know there’s a job waiting for them here. We have a great district they can come and work in with great benefits."
Barrios said it will take several years before qualified applicants begin graduating from the Sac State program.