A decade ago, 200 would apply for an elementary position; this summer, the number barely tops 10

    On the same day that the Crookston School Board, at a special meeting, hired several people to fill important positions as the new school year fast approaches, board members and Superintendent Chris Bates bemoaned what has apparently become an epidemic at several school districts in the region: Very shallow applicant pools for available teaching positions.   

    One of the new hires approved by the board at Monday's meeting in the school district office conference room was Kari Heppner, a longtime Fisher School third grade teacher who lives in Crookston. She will teach the same grade at Highland School.   

    Interim Highland Principal Chris Trostad told the board that 11 applicants applied for the teaching position.    

    "Ten years ago we were getting 200 for elementary positions," Bates said.   

    Crookston apparently is not alone. The East Grand Forks School District this summer had five elementary teaching positions available, which generated a total of 18 applicants, Bates said. "It's just staggering some of the applicant numbers people are seeing," he added.   

    Shortly after being hired a couple years ago, Bates formed a cohort group of superintendents from several school districts in the region and has made it a point to provide research data to board members on topics like class sizes, extra-curricular activity numbers, substitute teacher pay, athletic fees, etc. He told board members on Monday that he's planning to provide updated data on numerous topics and also might add a new topic: Applicant numbers that districts in the region are attracting for teaching positions.   

    "It would be nice to try to get to the bottom of this and find out exactly what is going on," Bates said.   

    The Crookston district isn't alone in trying to fill openings late into the summer. A couple summers ago, a trio of elementary teachers resigned in August, which really put the district behind the eight-ball. Monday, some board members wondered if some type of penalty for teachers resigning after a certain date in the summer could become a negotiating point for a future contract with the teachers. Board member Adrianne Winger, who works in the Climax School, said the district there imposes a $500 penalty when teachers resign after a certain date in the summer.   

    Still, board chair Frank Fee said if a teacher gets a new job well into the summer and leaves, there's little recourse for the district losing the teacher's services. "They have a new job and they're going to go," he said. "There's not a whole lot we can do."   

    In addition to Heppner, the board on Monday approved the hirings of:   

    • Cynthia Fahser, from Wisconson, as a Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) teacher to replace the retired Jean Tester. It took several weeks of advertising the FCS position to generate any applicants.
    • Kathryn Stronstad as special services director to replace the resigned Kim  Johnson, who took a position in Thief River Falls, where she lives.
    • Joshua Hardy as half-time dean at CHS and half-time phy-ed/health instructor. He's an assistant Pirate boys' hockey coach and Crookston Youth Hockey coordinator who's taught phy-ed at the Fisher School.
    • Jeremy Lubinski as a .833 full-time-equivalent instructor at New Paths Area Learning Center and .166 phy-ed instructor at CHS. Lubinski had been a .6 FTE phy-ed instructor in the district.   

    Bates said a half-time New Paths ALC instructor still needs to be hired.