Aug 7, 2023 - News

St. Paul schools offered $10K bonuses for hard-to-fill positions. Here's how it went.

Illustration of a teacher's chalkboard with "Now Hiring" written across it.

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Big hiring bonuses are helping St. Paul Public Schools fill some crucial roles, but officials are still racing to fill hundreds of open positions a month before students return to the classroom.

Why it matters: The state's second-largest school district's strategy — and struggle — underscores the scope of the state and national teacher shortage.

  • Eight in 10 Minnesota school districts have reported being "somewhat significantly" or "very significantly" impacted by the hiring crunch, which worsened as educators retired or left the profession during the pandemic, per a report from the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

State of the payroll: As of early August, the district had filled about 800 of its 1,400 vacant positions for the upcoming school year, a spokesperson told Axios.

What they're doing: This spring, the district announced that it would spend about $1 million to offer hiring bonuses of up to $10,000 for hard-to-fill positions. The money will be paid in installments over two years.

  • "We're hoping that if they come in, they're here for two years, that people will like where they are at and that this will be a place that they will ultimately call their home," SPPS executive chief of human resources Patricia Pratt-Cook told Axios.

The response: High. Pratt-Cook's team has screened 5,000 applications. And not just from early-career educators — the incentives are attracting veteran teachers from throughout the metro area.

  • Plus: All 70 of the $10,000 bonuses earmarked for high-priority special education positions have been claimed.

Yes, but: The remaining vacancies include about 70 classroom teachers, 30 special education specialists, and 10 educators to teach English as a second language.

  • The bulk of the openings for unlicensed roles are for teaching assistants, educational assistants, and building clerks.

Reality check: Hiring bonuses alone likely won't be enough to fix the teacher shortage long term.

  • School funding, teacher licensing, and the need to attract more young people to the field — especially those from diverse backgrounds — have all been under the spotlight in recent years.

Zoom out: Association of Metro School Districts executive director Scott Croonquist told Axios that the vast majority of districts in the region are still working to fill vacancies. Almost all are in need of special education teachers and paraprofessionals, he added.

  • Axios requested vacancy numbers from Anoka-Hennepin and Minneapolis Public Schools but has not yet received the data.

What we're watching: Most of St. Paul's current applicants come from within Minnesota. But Pratt-Cook said the district is looking at ways to "cast our net wider," including ramping up efforts to attract teachers from out of state.

  • This year, staff made recruiting trips for the first time to historically Black colleges and universities.
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