This school district is offering new teacher bonuses and credential tuition payments

As school districts face fierce competition for teachers, the Natomas Unified School District is offering to cover most credential program costs, provide free use of a Macbook and give bonus pay for living within district boundaries.

The goal is to attract current college students or working professionals interested in a second career. Those potential teachers may otherwise find it difficult to consider a fifth year of student debt or leave a good job, said Natomas Superintendent Chris Evans.

In return, teachers must agree to stay in the Natomas district for at least three years. If they don’t, they will be required to repay the funds, Evans said.

“We would like to help you with the cost of living and we’d like you to live in our community,” Evans said.

As California has devoted more money to schools since the recession, districts have reduced class sizes and restored programs, which require more teachers. At the same time, the state has seen a shrinking supply of teachers due to retirement, leaving the profession, higher student enrollment, low salaries and high cost of living, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

“At some point California will have to adjust to this crisis,” Evans said. “This is a crisis. ... We need to have the state step up. In the short term, in Natomas, we are going to try to be creative and innovative.”

The Natomas school board in October approved a recruitment program that offers 80 percent of the cost of a one-year teaching credential program. The district also will provide a Macbook during that year and a menu of bonuses that include a $500 monthly stipend for living within district boundaries.

The district is sweetening the pot for students earning credentials in particularly high-demand fields: math, science, special education, world languages and career technical education. Students who take these hard-to-fill teaching jobs will get a $5,000 bonus.

The district is also using a $5,000 bonus to recruit bilingual and minority teachers, as well as teachers who can demonstrate a interest in working with at-risk youth.

Markus Benjamin, 36, works all day in the Natomas district’s warehouses and takes classes in education online to earn his college degree.

“Anybody who knows me – friends and family – know that I have been passionate about working with youth all my adult life,” Benjamin said. “I really, really want to get in there and help with the students.”

Benjamin was in college in the mid-2000s when “life happened” and he left school to take a job. He worked as a recreation specialist with the city of Sacramento and a recreation coordinator for the Sacramento Job Corps before coming to Natomas Unified.

He said began working toward his education degree because “I realized I wanted to be in the classroom, mainly in primary grades.”

Benjamin said he will not be deterred if he does not receive a grant from the school district. “Either way, I am pursuing it and I’m staying in the district,” he said.

Funds for the three-year recruitment program will come from a district budget surplus, as well as onetime state funds. The district estimates that 45 students will participate at a cost of $837,500.

Seventy candidates have expressed an interest in the program so far, Evans said. District officials are still trying to determine how many students will be eligible next year. They plan to award the first round of grants in January.

The first group of candidates will be in Natomas Unified classrooms in August 2019, Evans said. The program allows students to attend school and complete their teacher training wherever they want, he said.

Beginning teachers at Natomas Unified can earn between $46,000 and $56,000 a year, depending on their degree and the number of college units earned.

Because of the teaching shortage, the district now starts recruiting teachers in October instead of January and February. Evans said it is the earliest Natomas has begun its hiring process. The district has 99 percent of its teaching positions filled this year, he said.

Other districts in the region are participating in a state program that offers a share of $20 million to convert non-classroom school workers into teachers.

The California Classified School Employee Teacher Credentialing Program is designed for employees who have completed at least two years of college and need help finishing their education, both undergraduate degrees and teaching credentials.

Locally, participating districts include the Sacramento County Office of Education, as well as the Elk Grove, San Juan and Davis Joint unified school districts. The county office intends to train staff from other local districts, including Folsom Cordova, Sacramento City and Twin Rivers unified, according to Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon.

The grants will pay $4,000 annually per participant for up to five years to help them complete a bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching credential.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

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