SALEM - When it comes time to recruit new teachers, rural school districts often have it tougher than urban districts.
School officials in rural communities have to convince prospective new hires to come to a place where the pay isn't great and there isn't much in the way of night life.
However, help may be on the way in the form of a proposal by Sen. Ryan Deckert, R-Beaverton, to offer $1,000 in signing bonuses to new teachers in rural districts or economically disadvantaged regions.
As proposed, the legislation would allow the bonuses to be paid by districts based outside city limits, in state-recognized enterprise zones, on an Oregon Indian reservation or in a county where the unemployment rate is 20 percent higher than the state average.
Basically, Im talking about areas not like my district, Deckert said. The suburbs are doing a good job attracting young talent, but other places are struggling.
Brookings-Harbor School District District Superintendent Paul Prevenas said he has an easier time recruiting teachers than most rural districts because of Brookings quaint coastal atmosphere.
However, he said, We pay teachers less than urban districts, so thats a factor.
Clearly a $1,000 bonus would help us, but I wont hold my breath. Only a small number of bills ever get approved by the legislature.
A December study by the Oregon Quality Assurance in Teaching Program found that during the past two years, almost half of Oregon's school principals reported trouble recruiting enough candidates in several subjects including math, science, music, bilingual education and special education.
Principals reported the most difficulty finding new teachers on the north coast, in Eastern Oregon, the Salem metro area, the Columbia Gorge and Central Oregon.
In general, our understanding is that there is not a shortage of elementary teachers, but in the specialty areas like special education, math, physics and chemistry, said Holly Zanville, Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the Oregon University System, which published the research.
During the 1999-2000 school year, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission issued 840 teachers so-called conditional assignment licenses to teach more than 10 hours a week in subjects outside of their expertise.
Those licenses are more common in rural districts, and partly reflect the difficulty attracting teachers licensed to teach specialty subjects, said David Myton, executive director.
According to Senate Bill 221, districts would be limited to handing out 10 bonuses every two years, and analysts expect that between 70 and 120 new teachers statewide would qualify for the program, Deckert said.
That would keep the price tag reasonable at a time when a tight state budget is casting a long shadow over any new funding proposals, he said.
We have to keep the cost low or we're not going to have a chance at passing it, he said. If we can keep it around $100,000, we might be OK.
Senate Majority Leader David Nelson, R-Pendleton, said the state already offers tax breaks as an incentive for doctors and health care providers to stay in rural Oregon, so he believes some kind of bonuses for teachers would be appropriate.
But he also believes Deckert's proposal would need to be narrowed down so that it focuses more on struggling regions.
Right now, the definition of who can give (the bonuses) is pretty broad, he said.
And even then, there's no guarantee even modest funding will be available, Nelson said.
Rep. Ben Westlund, R-Tumalo, co-chairman of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee, said he's not optimistic even though he favors the notion of finding innovative ways to attract more qualified teachers to rural and struggling parts of the state.
The spirit of it I support in its entirety, he said. But in distinct terms, show me the money. We've got to work within a constrained budget.
Sam Wilson, superintendent of tiny Lake County School District 11 in Paisley, population 365, said the idea still is worth pursuing.
However, the fine print would also need to deal with how long teachers would stay, he said.
How much would they have to commit, how many years, to get that signing bonus? Wilson said. And if they werent too successful as teachers, if you let them go, do you ask for your money back?
Reporter Scott Graves contributed to this story.