TULSA - A new school year begins this week for Tulsa Public Schools, and the district still has dozens of teaching vacancies to fill.
Tulsa, however, is not the only district facing this problem. The Oklahoma School Boards Association released the results of a survey Tuesday that showed districts statewide are still looking for more than 800 teachers.
Experts said the reasons for the shortage vary, but Tulsa administrators said the jobs are hard to fill because there are not as many as college graduates entering the profession.
"It's not that there's not an interest. It's not that we don't have teachers to fill our ranks. We just don't have enough graduates that are selecting teaching as a career," said Ken Calhoun, executive director of human capital for Tulsa Public Schools.
His department is responsible for recruiting and hiring new teachers for the district. With just one day left until a new school year starts, he still needs to fill 83 teaching vacancies at schools across the district.
"Obviously 83 vacancies means 83 classrooms that won't have a full-time teacher in that classroom," Calhoun said. "However, those classrooms will be covered by substitutes that we'll have in place."
He said most of the substitutes are retired school teachers, so he hopes parents feel more assured that experienced educators are teaching their kids while administrators search for the right candidates.
The district is now working to fill 19 vacancies at the high schools as well as 64 openings at the elementary schools. Calhoun said 20 of those jobs are in grades three through five, which he calls "alarming."
"Those are tested grades," he said, "so we want to make sure that we focus on getting quality certified teachers into those subjects so that we can prepare those students for those tests."
Principal Kristy Tatum at Skelly Elementary is still trying to fill a third grade teaching position as well as several others.
"I also have two (special education) openings," Tatum said. "I may have filled one of those this morning, so that's awesome. I have a second grade opening. I had two, but I filled one of those on Monday. (The teacher) is here trying to get her room ready really quickly."
Tatum would also like to find a reading interventionist to work with fourth to sixth grade students.
"That's a really important position that we have that helps support our lower-performing students," she said, "so we need to get that one filled as well."
For the first time in her career, Tatum said she will start a new year with substitutes in those classrooms. She, however, remains confident that the district will fill the openings at her school as well as all the others quickly.
"It's a stressful thing, but at school we're flexible," Tatum said. "We're a team, and we all just have to do what we have to do."
Administrators said there are currently about 27 teachers in processing. Another 115 applicants have gone through pre-screenings and will be available for interviews shortly. The district hopes that those candidates will help close the shortage.
"We won't have vacant or empty classrooms for the students," Calhoun said, "but some may be filled with substitutes."
Anyone interested in applying for one of the jobs can click here .