PHOENIX - Unable to fill open teaching positions for the 2016-17 school year, Adam Sharp, a principal with Espiritu Charter Schools, did something drastic.
“We hired a headhunting firm to go across the entire state and look for teachers because we're desperate,” Sharp said.
When it comes to hiring qualified teachers, education leaders say Arizona's candidate pool is bone dry.
Possible reasons for the shortage were recently mapped out in a nationwide report by the Learning Policy Institute, a research group that ranked Arizona as the least attractive state for teachers.
“I’m not really surprised at all,” said Sharp. “There's a lack of respect for the teachers some people view this as a lesser profession.”
The study looked at everything from administrative support to job security and student-teacher ratios.
While all those factors matter, Sharp believes the problems mostly boil down to one thing.
“Pay is the biggest obstacle,” he told 12 News.
Arizona's average starting salary of $31,874 is well below the national average of $36,141.
“We can recruit some young teachers but as soon as they have families and continue in their profession, they're not advancing in salary quickly enough to make a living,” Sharp said.
He’s had teachers leave the profession or go to another state like California or Texas where the starting pay is $8,000 to $10,000 more.
“So who’s filling all those seats?” said Sharp. “It's long-term substitutes, it's people that may or may not be qualified to teach your children.”
While most agree there's no quick fix for Arizona’s issues, Sharp believes it begins with giving educators the respect they deserve and advocacy.
“As parents we have to rise up as a group,” he said. “Don't attack the school -- attack the state and say ‘We want a great education system.’”
According to a just-released report by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, four weeks into this school year, the state still had more than 2,000 teacher vacancies, which is 25 percent of all positions.
That number jumps to 47 percent when the report added in vacancies being filled by people who do not meet standard teaching requirements.