President’s Message: Susan Markarian
A short-term solution for a long-term problem
SB 765 is one tool to alleviate the teacher shortage before long-term measures take effect
Much of what influences my work as CSBA President is my connection to the small, rural farming community where I grew up. My home today is just five miles away from where I lived as a child. My father was a mechanic and my mother was a kindergarten teacher for 40 years. I spent a lot of time in her classroom helping out, doing projects at home for her kindergarten kids. And I determined very early on I did not want to be a teacher. It was a very stressful job that took tons of patience that as a young child I didn’t feel I would have. So, I have the utmost respect for teachers and the extremely important job they do.

At an Aug. 14 press conference hosted by the California Department of Education, CSBA joined the Association of California School Administrators, California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers to shed light on the teacher shortage crisis and advocate for solutions. As a 38-year school board member in the Pacific Union Elementary School District, I’ve seen firsthand the difference teachers make and how challenging it can be to recruit and retain effective teachers, especially in areas likes mine in rural Fresno County. The teacher shortage is typically illustrated through media stories focusing on large urban and suburban districts, but it’s even more profound in many of our small, rural school districts and more remote county offices of education. This is the type of equity issue that too often goes unseen and unheard, but it has profound impact on academic achievement and life outcomes for the youth in rural communities and elsewhere.

Small, rural districts have a lot to offer that big districts don’t. We don’t, however, have access to the facilities that the bigger districts have, or to a large pool of teachers because a lot of teachers don’t want to drive out to rural areas to teach. We get teachers, we train them and often they move on to higher-paying positions in the city. It’s a constant turnover and it’s only gotten worse as the teacher shortage has intensified, affecting almost every school district in the state: affluent, middle class, low income, urban, suburban and rural.

a teacher going over flashcards with one of her students
While the teacher shortage is not new, its severity is. Long before COVID-19, California schools struggled to hire enough well-prepared teachers to provide every student with high-quality instruction. The impact of the pandemic transformed this shortage into a full-blown crisis. A dwindling pool of candidates hinders the ability of school districts and county offices of education to place qualified personnel in the classroom and provide students with the best possible learning experience.

Teacher shortages undermine achievement by:

  • Creating high rates of teacher vacancies
  • Forcing schools to rely on underprepared teachers and substitutes
  • Increasing class sizes
  • Causing teachers to be assigned outside of their areas of training
  • Producing more teachers with substandard credentials
  • Exerting a disproportionate impact on low-income, minority and English learner students
  • Presenting a greater challenge for districts in rural and remote parts of the state
  • Making it harder for disadvantaged students to recover the ground lost to their peers during the pandemic

To their credit, CDE and the Legislature have addressed this issue in recent years with programs to attract new teachers to the profession. Most of these initiatives, however, will take years to produce results and I know from talking to my colleagues across California that we just don’t have that kind of time.

Headshot of Susan Markarian
“Retired teachers are some of the best-equipped candidates to hit the ground running and provide high-caliber instruction and services to our students.”
Susan Markarian, CSBA President
Fortunately, Senate Bill 765, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino and co-sponsored by CSBA, would provide temporary, yet immediate, relief to school district and county offices of education grappling with the teacher shortage. SB 765 facilitates the easier return of retired teachers to the classroom, providing schools with a critical tool to help ensure all students have a qualified teacher.

Retired teachers are some of the best-equipped candidates to hit the ground running and provide high-caliber instruction and services to our students. Yet, currently, retired teachers must wait 180 days — a full school year — before returning to the classroom. And when they do return, a salary cap limits their earnings to approximately 50 percent of the normal salary for the position they are filling, effectively limiting their service to slightly less than one semester.

These guardrails were put into place to encourage the recruitment and retention of new teachers — and understandably so. But, given the unprecedented staffing shortages schools are experiencing, temporary modification of these measures is needed. SB 765 strikes a balance between the desire to address the educational staffing shortage we face now, and the long-term protections required to ensure the financial resiliency of CalSTRS.

SB 765 would temporarily increase the salary cap and waive the 180-day mandatory waiting period LEAs must observe before hiring a recently retired teacher. Together, these two changes would provide a modest, yet much-needed tool LEAs can use to address our state’s school staffing shortages at a time when they’ve never been worse, and students have never needed our help more.