Teachers wanted for Head Start

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BRATTLEBORO — School officials want to make salary rates more attractive for early education teachers.

"We don't seem to come to a good solution and we're getting worse; our number of vacancies is increasing," Brattleboro Town School Board Chairwoman Jill Stahl Tyler said during a meeting last Tuesday. "I feel we need to attend to this."

Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Early Education Services Director Debra Gass told the board that one new teacher will be assigned to a classroom at the Westminster Head Start, freeing up some time for the lead supervisor to get back to other duties.

Her group is part of the Vermont Head Start Association, which offers child development programming to kids from low-income families who are 5 years old and younger. Social services are offered to their families.

"We need three [more teachers] to resume the full-day in separate classrooms," Gass said, referring to Westminster. "I don't have a crystal ball but the fact that we already found one teacher feels very positive."

She believes 10 of the 11 staff vacancies in the Supervisory Union's EES are for teachers. The three other Windham County-based Head Start centers are in Brattleboro.

"So we are operating on a lot of substitute teachers," said Gass, and some of them are getting trained to become full time.

In Vermont, she said, the average Head Start teacher with a bachelor's degree makes about $28,730 a year plus benefits. A kindergarten teacher makes about $54,920.

"Now, that's not really comparing apples to apples because a Head Start teacher probably works 12 months a year," Gass said. "A kindergarten teacher works 10 and ... is required to have a license. Whereas these are statewide averages, I'm not sure all teachers with a bachelor's degree need a license."

Gass said teachers from her group, with a license and bachelor's degree, make about $33,100 a year and get a "good" benefits package. New hires would not start at that rate. Incremental pay increases are based on years worked and cost of living.

Gass did not have the average kindergarten teacher's salary in the Brattleboro school district.

To attract more candidates, Academy School Principal Andy Paciulli suggested providing bonuses for teachers signing and re-signing contracts or helping teachers pay their student loans.

EES employees can receive forgiveness on certain student loans, Gass said. But to be eligible, they must work a certain number of years.

"So that's not an immediate benefit for employees," Gass said. "We do pay for college tuition, a course per semester."

Stahl Tyler asked why someone with a license and bachelor's degree would take half the salary.

"It's a totally different world and in the preschool world, not all teachers are required to have a bachelor's degree," Gass replied, calling Head Start a training ground. "And there are people who really love that age group."

When EES first started in 1965, Gass said, a lot of parents filled the teaching positions.

State and federal money helps pay the salaries. But "obviously it's not adequately funded," said board member David Schoales.

"Unfortunately, the money doesn't follow to pay for commensurate salaries," Gass said, adding that early education college courses are "scantily enrolled because people have figured this out."

To cut costs and improve salary rates, Stahl Tyler wondered whether a class with older children could be brought to a Brattleboro school to avoid having to pay rent on one of the locations. Head Start classrooms are currently located on Canal Street, Birge Street and the Brattleboro Union High School.

Paciulli said a big sum is spent on leasing the building on Birge Street, adding, "you could rent a lot of space on Main Street for $160,000 a year."

Gass said her group is "getting a deal" at Birge Street. She suggested it would have been best if the building was purchased for $500,000 a few years ago when the option was on the table.

"But for whatever reason, we didn't," she said.

Stahl Tyler said she might ask WSESU Business Administrator Frank Rucker for advice on whether to purchase the building.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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