FARMINGTON — San Juan County school districts have increased recruiting efforts for hiring teachers as the number of college students graduating from New Mexico teacher education programs has dropped over the last several years.

Administrators for the Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington school districts say they have seen a decrease in the number of college graduates from state colleges, and they've had to travel out-of-state as far away as Minnesota to hire teachers for the 2014-2015 school year.

Chris Pash, human resources director for the Farmington Municipal School District, said the district has to fill about 60 teacher positions for the coming school year, which is still lower than the number of teachers the district hired for the current school year.

Kurt Chrisman works with his orchestra class on April 24 at Piedra Vista High School in Farmington.
Kurt Chrisman works with his orchestra class on April 24 at Piedra Vista High School in Farmington. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

"We hired over a 100 teachers last year, so we're actually down a little bit from where we were," Pash said.

Based on past years, Pash estimated another 20 to 30 teacher openings could be added as the end of the school year approaches.

The Farmington school district employs more than 700 teachers, and Pash said it has been a difficult to hire graduates from New Mexico teacher education programs.

"In New Mexico, we aren't nearly seeing the number of teacher candidates that we used to see," Pash said.

Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter and Chuck Culpepper, the director of curriculum and assessment for the Bloomfield School District, said their districts have also faced similar recruitment challenges.

"This is the most aggressive we've been as a district in recruiting in my 24 years in the district as a teacher, principal and administrator," Carpenter said.

Culpepper said Bloomfield schools needed to hire about 25 teachers for the upcoming school year. On average, about 10 percent of teachers leave the district annually, he said.

The number of graduates from four-year teacher education programs has declined since 2007, said Michael Morehead, the dean of the College of Education at New Mexico State University.

In 2007, 1,113 students graduated from teacher programs at New Mexico's four-year college programs, according to the Educator Accountability Reporting System report. That number dropped to 732 in 2011 and is expected to dip to 690 in 2013. That year of the report has yet to be compiled.

Morehead believes a number of reasons are behind the declining teacher numbers, including accountability mandates from the No Child Left Behind Act, compensation and "impression of opportunity."

"I think the salaries have not kept pace, especially lifetime salary potential," Morehead said. "I think there is an environment right now that is putting demands on educators that make people apprehensive about going into it."

Because of the low number of teachers in New Mexico, Farmington schools sent representatives to Minnesota, Montana and Michigan to recruit teachers.

"At those three teacher fairs, there (were) over 2,000 combined applicants," Pash said. "We sent a team to Minnesota to a teacher fair there with 39 different colleges."

Carpenter said the Aztec school district has about 10 teacher positions open, but half of them are new positions the district added to handle its increased enrollment and positions that were cut in previous years due to budget cuts.

Carpenter said the teachers graduating from state colleges are being heavily recruited by districts across the country.

"It's getting very competitive in New Mexico," Carpenter said. "The average teaching salary in our state is less than $10,000 (below the average teacher's salary) across the country."

Pash said salary was an issue when Farmington schools sent a representative to a teacher fair in Houston, Texas.

"If Houston is at a table, and they are offering teachers upwards of $50,000 when our starting salary is around $33,000, that's a big difference when you are starting out at a job," Pash said.

Carpenter, Culpepper and Pash said a number of reasons also lead teachers to leave area school districts, including retirement, relocation and higher pay in other fields.

"Some of our young teachers are leaving because of the money aspect of it, and they can make it in other fields," Pash said. "We've seen that with math and science teachers recently."

The upcoming state budget will include $1.9 million for recruiting and retaining science, technology, engineering and math teachers, said Aimee Barabe, the director of strategic outreach for the state Public Education Department, in an email. Another $7.2 million has been allocated to allow districts to create and pilot programs to reward highly effective teachers and school leaders.

"These are just a couple of examples of ways that we are working to support districts as they work to recruit and retain teachers," Barabe said in an email.

Retirement also plays a role in creating vacancies for teachers.

Kurt Chrisman, the orchestra teacher at Piedra Vista High School, is retiring from teaching after 34 years to conduct private lessons for the cello, bass and potentially the trombone.

"While I really enjoyed the kids and teaching, the job takes it toll on all of us," Chrisman said. "I needed to get out of the schools while still young enough to enjoy other things."

Over the last decade, teachers have had to adapt rapidly to new education initiatives, Chrisman said. And, sometimes, teachers don't get a chance to develop components long enough before they are changed.

"We're going through a lot of changes," Chrisman said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @jkelloggdt.