REGION — Hiring teachers and other school staff at area schools has increased in difficulty over the past several years and, according to UMaine at Farmington educators, it will continue to be difficult in the coming years.

University of Maine at Farmington is one of only three nationally accredited teaching programs in Maine. Since 2006, seven UMF Education graduates have been named Maine “Teacher of the Year.”

“National statistics show that the number of students pursuing teacher preparation has been in decline for a while,” said Lisa Ellrich, University of Maine at Farmington director of admissions and assistant vice president for enrollment management. “In addition, higher education in New England is facing a demographic decline that has fewer college bound students graduating from high school. This, compounded with COVID’s impact and a strong job market, is contributing to the teacher shortage in Maine.” During COVID, substitute teacher shortages increased as well, exacerbating the problem.

Five local educators weigh in on the challenges they face in their schools with a diminished supply of teachers.


When the Telstar High School Spanish teacher died suddenly in January, several students opted not to take their second semester of Spanish class on-line. According to Principal Mark Kenney, about 40% dropped second semester Spanish. “They wanted in-person learning” he said, “and they decided to wait for a new Spanish teacher to be hired.”


That position is one of three, as yet not filled at Telstar. The Spanish teacher position and the 7th grade Science teacher position have received very few applications. Last year along with the Spanish teacher position, Telstar was not able to fill the middle school guidance position, either. Kenney said they are hopeful the guidance position at least, will be filled this year.

Telstar Principal Mark Kenney Rose Lincoln

Telstar Middle /High School is part of a small district of less than 750 students that includes Crescent Park Elementary and Woodstock Elementary. “Ten or 15 years ago, [when Kenney was a teacher at Telstar] we would have had a whole stack to sort through, half a dozen to a dozen applications per position. Now if we get one or two per position, we feel pretty fortunate.” Reasons for the shift, according to Kenney, likely include a lack of affordable housing or possibly the western Maine location in general. Fewer people are entering the field, too. “More people are retiring than coming in.” In the meantime, the gaps can’t be filled by substitutes either. “We have a substitute list of four.” Said Kenney, “Pre-COVID we had 30.”

Kenney, who has held the principal position since 2018 and was Dean of Students before that, said he did not think salary played into the staffing shortage and MSAD-44 School Superintendent Dr. David Murphy concurred saying, “Salaries and benefits are bargained individually in every school district in Maine. The Maine Department of Education does not have a standard contractual amount that teachers are paid. Our salary and benefit package is competitive with school systems in the area … the only thing that’s set is the minimum [teacher] salary in Maine, which is $40,000.”

Contracts are based, at least in part, on the education and experience of the candidate. The districts try to stay competitive with each other, but they sometimes lose people to Portland and other southern parts of the state because those salaries are higher. Alternatively, the county likely has lower salaries. An important draw for teacher candidates to this district, said Murphy are class sizes that are very small. “I don’t think there are any elementary classes that are up over 17 or 18 students.”

Regarding substitutes, Murphy said his district has been fortunate, with the addition of permanent substitutes who are at school every day. Their funding came through federal grants, funneled to the states. “We have probably one at Woodstock and at least a couple at the other schools,” he said.

RSU 10


Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, Mountain Valley High School, Mountain Valley Middle School, Rumford Elementary School, Western Foothills Regional Program, Hartford-Sumner Elementary School, and Meroby Elementary School all comprise the RSU10 district. The district geographically is large but is considered mid-sized according to the number of students.

Tom Danylik has worked at the Mountain Valley High School for 16 years, starting as a teacher, then assistant principal, interim principal and now in his current position as principal since March, ‘22. Danylik says they have been relatively successful filling openings this summer. Much of their hiring success happened in the last few weeks – mid to late July.

Their one remaining opening as of now is for a high school Special Education teacher. Many of their current teachers were hired for one-year COVID positions, and Danylik says they were lucky to have those people move into those open [permanent] positions.

“Without that, I’m not sure. It’s not advantageous to be trying to find teachers in the middle of August it cuts down their time to prepare … having your building filled up early is really important for the culture and climate of your school.”

The only open position in ‘21-‘22 was an added position for a social emotional learning educational tech. They have filled it for the coming year.

Major employers in the community, the Nine Dragons Paper Mill and the Rumford Hospital, have likely helped draw teachers to the area, Danylik said. “There might be more opportunities here for people to settle. I think our salaries are great. They’re competitive. It’s also incredibly important once people are in your building to keep them there.”


Danylik added, “Subs are a struggle everywhere. Substitute teaching is one of the most challenging jobs out there. We have been really lucky here. We have a rotation of four that we use regularly.” They had just a few more subs than that before the pandemic.


At MSAD-17 Oxford Hills School District which covers two high schools – Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Oxford Hills Technical School, eight pre-K to grade 6 schools, one middle school and four enrichment schools, there are 72 job openings listed for teachers, food service workers, bus drivers and custodians. Covering the towns of: Waterford, Paris, Oxford, Hebron, Otisfield, West Paris, Harrison, and Norway, places them as one of the largest districts in the state.

OHCHS Principal Paul Bickford Brewster Burns photo

OHCHS Principal Paul Bickford, who prior to being principal was the director for the Technical School, is concerned about the many openings. “We have some openings that are pretty difficult to fill. We currently have openings in a couple of world languages and in special education. We’ve certainly had difficulty filling positions particularly in the math and science areas as well as world languages and special education. We’ve had some postings that have been open for quite a while. We’re still looking for candidates. It’s certainly a battle. I’m hopeful that we’ll fill most, if not all.” Last year, at the high school they were able to fill all their openings eventually, but Bickford said that at the elementary schools some positions never got filled.

Regarding substitute teachers, he said finding people that want to come into a building has been difficult. “At the high school we’ve had a small, dedicated number of substitutes teachers and often times that hasn’t met the needs. We’ve had to pull staff from planning periods to cover other classrooms on a pretty regular basis. That was something that at most was a rare occurrence, if at all, prior to COVID.” Impact has been felt on both staff and students. For the students it is a lack of consistency. “It’s certainly been tricky these past few years.”

Minimum salary is mandated, after that it’s not. “We certainly find where we have some experienced staff members who have been in the district for many years, taking positions elsewhere because of better pay. It has happened over the last three or four years. They might have to drive an extra 15-20 minutes, but their salary increases by $10,000 plus. That has been an ongoing issue.  The union just came to a new contract this year with a healthy increase, but it’s still not catching up to some of the other districts, especially more toward southern Maine.”


Bickford said the teacher shortage is everywhere, particularly in rural and poorer areas like Western Maine. In Oxford, they compete with the lake region, also Windham, Gorham and the Portland area. “[Those towns] are within commuting distance for people commuting to our district now and they commute south instead of north and receive a significant increase.”

Gould Academy

Tao Smith, entering his third year as Head of School at Gould Academy, said he has had great luck filling positions at Gould. “It’s normal for us to still be hiring at this time of year. We’ve found that the last two years we’ve seen a higher-than-normal amount of turnover … each case individually is explainable but taken as a whole, it’s been above average.” Gould had no unfilled positions last school year and while a few teaching positions are listed on their web site, he is confident they will fill those slots. “We’ve found there’s a lot of people that are excited to move to Bethel and excited about working at Gould.”

Gould doesn’t require teaching certification but does require a bachelor’s degree. “The majority of our teaching faculty have a master’s degree or higher. Many teachers have teaching certificates.”

“Our base salaries are lower than public school teachers, but our benefits are higher,” said Smith.  For nine months of the year, staff and their families get to eat for free in the dining hall. More than 50% of the teachers have free on-campus housing. The benefits package also includes a health plan and retirement with an employee contribution.

“Probably the greatest advantage we have comes down to tuition remission. Gould employees pay 10% of day student tuition [full tuition is over $40,000].  I don’t believe it puts the local schools at a disadvantage.  It’s not salary its two very different choices … the level of involvement dictates where they want to put their energy. When we are open it’s a 24/7 job. It’s a lifestyle commitment. You work more hours, but you also develop a closer working relationship with your students.  That appeals to some people, whereas the public school which tends to be more predictable in its hours appeals to someone else … . It’s not salary or benefits ultimately that makes the decision for people … it’s a lifestyle choice and it’s a very personal choice and its different for everybody.”


The one area where Smith has noticed a Gould disadvantage is in trying to recruit a public school teacher from Boston or another urban area. Their current salaries are sometimes double what Gould offers. “That’s where we sometimes lose a great candidate.”


The outlook is that the shortage of teachers in Maine and the entire New England Region will continue. As the Maine Department of Labor published in the 2018-2028 Maine Workforce Outlook, “Even in occupations expected to have fewer jobs there will be a significant number of job openings because the number leaving jobs will be larger than the net reduction.”

A multitude of factors are impacting the teacher shortage. From COVID and increasing housing prices to fewer young people choosing education as a career path. According to a March 2022 story in the Boston Globe titled, “A Shortage of College Students Will Soon Hit the Northeast,” economics professor Nathan Grawe said, “because of the decreased fertility during the recession of ’08 and ’09 we are currently seeing a 16% drop in the numbers of babies being born (2007-2020).”

Recognizing the shortage, “The University of Maine at Farmington is working with Maine schools in multiple ways to help address the current teacher shortage. In addition to continuing its commitment to providing high quality undergraduate teacher education programs, Farmington is also working to create new Early College pathways, helping adult learners interested in teacher education and continuing to grow its graduate programs in special education and mathematics education, which have certification options,” said Katherine Yardley, UMF associate provost and dean of the College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation.

Only time will tell how all of these factors will continue to impact education. For this year, educators are hopeful they will fill their teacher positions.









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