In Vegas, recruiting teachers is a ruthless art
A secretary races into George Ann Rice's office, apologizes for the interruption, and then blurts out: "My husband's nephew heard that at least 80 teachers are losing their jobs in Iowa because of the budget cuts."Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Rice, the chief recruiter for Las Vegas schools, has just finished saying that she doesn't like to capitalize on the misfortune of others when trying to staff the nation's fastest-growing school system. Her eyes light up, she asks if this information has been passed on to the recruiter in charge of advertising, and then realizes the irony of the moment. "That's not vicious," she insists. "They're losing their jobs anyway."
OK, maybe it's not vicious. Opportunistic might be a better word. But when you're responsible for hiring as many as 1,900 teachers a year at a time when the nation is facing a shortage of instructors, opportunism can be a virtue.
Rice's challenge is staggering. The district projects 400,000 pupils by 2009 up from some 172,000 in 1995 and plans to open dozens of new schools. By necessity, then, recruiters in Clark County, Nev., have become known as perhaps the most aggressive in the nation. They're going after retirees, stay-at-home moms, cops, social workers anyone and everyone from Majorca to the military.
As an Arizona legislator once told Rice: "We say in Arizona, 'You hear that sucking sound? That's our water and our teachers going to Nevada.' "
Some parents and national teaching advocates worry that the desperate need for instructors results in unleashing less-qualified people on students. But Rice insists she passes over hundreds of applicants who don't meet her standards. "It's much easier to not hire them than to realize you've made a mistake and try to fire them later," she says.
The Las Vegas area has been the nation's fastest-growing region for more than a decade. It now boasts 1.5 million people, luring new residents with plentiful jobs, cheap housing, and no state income tax.
The region has been fortunate to have a voting public willing to approve more than $4 billion in bonds for school construction since the early 1990s. As a result, 16 new schools opened last fall, nine will open this year, and 17 more are planned for 2003. More than 60 are planned through 2010.
But the local universities crank out only 600 teachers a year, forcing Rice and her team to raid other regions where economies are tight, school buildings are old and decrepit, job promotions are slow, or the city's just not as much fun.
Anybody and everybody can be a job candidate. A stay-at-home mom whose children are school-age is liable to get a call informing her of a teacher-certification program that includes classes during the hours her kids are in school. A military service member near retirement might notice ads in armed-services publications. An accountant looking for a career change can be in the classroom within months, and have most of his expedited training paid for by the district.
Even vacationers at McCarran International Airport are beckoned with billboards like this one: "More career opportunities. More new schools. More all-you-can-eat buffets. Is this a great place to teach or what?"