In the leadup to April’s levy vote for the Independence School District – a levy increase that would allow the district to hire 45 more teachers – Dale Herl knew that the possible glut of teacher openings wouldn’t coincide too well with the normal timing of a many new hires, being after the college job fairs.
The Independence Schools superintendent and his cabinet explored the possibility of advertising teacher openings on billboards.
That the district went ahead with the idea didn’t raise eyebrows as much as where those billboards were located when they went up in late April – on the Kansas Turnpike near Lawrence and on U.S. 54 outside of Goddard, Kan., just west of Wichita.
Due to increasing state budget constraints, Kansas school districts are leaving numerous positions unfilled, and some teachers are taking earlier retirements. ISD leaders thought they could lure some teachers across the border.
The billboards don’t mention Kansas’ woes, rather they simply say that ISD is hiring teachers and has rising enrollment (a handful of young pupils are pictured).
“We thought we could probably attract some teachers, due to proximity and unfilled positions,” Herl said. “We’ve hired a number of teachers from Kansas. For the most part, because of the timing, they’ve been veteran teachers.
“We have tremendous teachers in Independence. I’m very happy with the staff, but we have had to get creative.”
Independence schools based the need for new teachers, including 33 at the elementary level, on the jump in enrollment over the past several years and increased class sizes that had caused in many places – even after some neighborhood boundary changes a few years ago.
In August 2008, the first school year after the annexation of several schools from the Kansas City district, districtwide enrollment was nearly 13,100 students. Last August the figure topped 14,300, and the district said another 350 students enrolled over the course of the school year. In that same time span, ISD’s kindergarten through third grade student population has increased by 1,300.
The district had 950 graduates in May from Truman, Van Horn and William Chrisman high schools, while the kindergarten class had more than 1,300 students – with a higher number expected again for this coming school year.
The cost is rather inexpensive, Herl said – $4,000 for three weeks worth of the artwork for the two boards – and the district had asked for two strategic sites. The billboards went up a few weeks after the voters gave their approval for the levy, and Herl said a few applicants referred to the billboards.
“We had an influx of applicants in the first week after they went up,” he said, “and we’ve had others ask about potential openings.”
Tom Campa, who will teach and coach baseball at Chrisman High School, comes to Independence from Goddard, Kansas, where he quickly built a state contender program at Eisenhower High School after it opened in 2011. His wife, Julie, will teach at Sycamore Hills Elementary, which will have six additional teachers this fall.
The Campas’ move was already in place by the time the ISD billboards went up, but he certainly recognizes the situation into which his new district inserted itself.
“I considered Independence when I was contacted on the baseball coaching position,” Campa said. “Once we visited with the district and had a chance to look around, we thought it would be good. I don’t want to say it was a family package, but it was very nice that they offered (Julie) a job.
“Obviously the education budget (in Kansas) has become a major issue for the state. I know teachers that have been in the same position and have come to a standstill.”
Campa said that for some teachers in Kansas, it’s become harder to offer students to same learning experience.
“We have to go outside (the) means of our district to make things happen,” he said.
“Mine was based solely on what was best for my family,” Campa said of his move, “and I’m looking forward to the challenge. For other teachers just crossing the border in Missouri, it’s just a matter of if they’re looking to make the same change as I did.”
Thanks in part to the offbeat recruiting, Independence schools have just a few openings left with less than 40 days until the start of the next school year despite the sudden staff increase.
“Right now,” Herl said, “we’re sitting as good as we have in a long time as far as jobs filled.”