Second grade teacher Breann Crocker prepares Thursday for classes to resume at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn. “There is a lot of reward if you are willing to put in the work,” the 11-year veteran teacher said. “Creating relationships with the kids is the best part.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Auburn school district Superintendent Cornelia Brown had a near-perfect hire on her hands: an experienced Latin teacher from the Midwest with a Ph.D from New York University.

After Brown hired the teacher, staff at the high school tried to help him find housing. But he wasn’t impressed with what he saw during a visit to the city and sent her a note explaining that he would have to turn down the position.

The problem? The lack of quality, affordable middle-class housing, according to Brown.

“I can’t tell you, I was just sick over it,” Brown said, noting that Latin teachers, never mind one with such great credentials, are difficult to find.

Across the state, school districts are struggling to fill staff in all departments, but it’s the vacant teaching and support positions which have administrators most concerned, according to superintendents from districts in central and western Maine. For a number of reasons, including the availability of affordable housing, the abundance of open positions and an acute national shortage of teachers, some Maine schools are eyeing the start of the school year with growing alarm, facing little hope of filling some of their most critical positions.

Second-grade teacher Breann Crocker’s car license plate mentions how she loves to teach. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Burnout worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and public backlash on culture issues has also pushed some educators to leave the field entirely, exacerbating a growing shortage of teachers.


Even when one school lucks out and makes a new hire, the problem remains. With a limited pool of applicants, one district’s boon means a loss for another, which now has even less time to find a replacement.

Several superintendents in central and western Maine noted that the widespread availability of open positions means that teachers are often able to find jobs closer to home, saving time and money on gas. This was commonly cited as a reason for departures.

At a meeting Wednesday, Brown shared that Auburn schools have 12 classroom teaching positions vacant, which does not include support staff, educational technicians or special education openings.

Fifteen years ago as Augusta’s superintendent, Brown might have received hundreds of applications for a single elementary-level teaching position, she said. Now, she has half a dozen openings across Auburn’s elementary schools with no qualified applicants as of yet.

In Lewiston, the situation may be more dire. According to Superintendent Jake Langlais, 70 educator positions are open, a count which includes all teaching staff except educational technicians.

Comparing the number of vacancies among districts is difficult however as counts provided often do not represent the exact same positions, as is the case with Lewiston and Auburn. The size of the school plays a role in staffing numbers, too. Auburn serves about 3,300 students, while Lewiston has 5,200.


Langlais said he doesn’t think the problem is necessarily with Lewiston, specifically. He said it’s long been known that hiring and retaining educators is more difficult in schools with high rates of poverty, as one factor the district cannot change.

Educational technicians often stood in for teachers due to staffing shortages this past school year. At Hartford-Sumner Elementary School in Sumner, De’Ana Celestino works on math equations in November 2021 while standing in for Abby Shields in her third grade class. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

Lewiston Education Association President Jaye Rich said changes in administrators and 16 months without a teaching contract have both led to turnover in Lewiston schools. She said it felt like a “slap in the face” to have to negotiate for “status quo” contractual agreements, such as longevity and education reimbursements.

Still, she loves working in Lewiston and is heartened by the higher, equitable pay steps and $3,000 stipends for critical positions — namely, special education and English language learning teachers — which are included in the new contract.

The shortage of teachers and staff is widespread, but not all Maine schools are feeling the impacts equally.

Take Portland for instance, the largest district in the state with 6,500 students. According to online job postings, the district has just seven open classroom teaching positions across the district.

Or, the Bonney Eagle school district based in Standish. With less than 100 more students than Auburn, the district has four general education classroom positions open, according to online postings.


At Rumford-based Regional School Unit 10, Superintendent Deb Alden said the district may have more teaching vacancies than substitutes to fill them.

“We’re all trying to hire, and people have choices,” she said. “There’s not enough to go around.”

RSU 10, with a student population of roughly 1,800, is seeking four classroom teachers, two special education teachers, one music teacher and one gifted and talented teacher.

Turner-based Maine School Administrative Unit 52 in Turner finds itself in a similar position. The district of 1,900 students has three openings for classroom teachers, with three more in the process of being filled, according to Superintendent Cari Medd.

None of these numbers reflect educational technician openings, a crucial but perpetually underfilled role, of which there are all but certain to be even more vacancies.

Second-grade teacher Breann Crocker works on planning for the upcoming school year Thursday at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn. “There is a lot of reward if you are willing to put in the work,” Crocker said about teaching. “Creating relationships with the kids is the best part,” said the 11-year-veteran teacher. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Auburn has 20 openings and MSAD 52, 12, for example.


Superintendents said they may consider adjusting class sizes or bump qualifying educational technicians up to teaching positions with waivers and emergency certifications to help close the hiring gap, not unlike what many districts did last year. The state has made it easier than ever for educational technicians and other professionals to receive waivers and emergency certifications in light of the critical, persistent shortage, according to Langlais.

But it’s not a solution without drawbacks.

Research shows that smaller class sizes result in greater educational gains. And educational technicians, too, play a key role in working one-on-one with students.

“It is oftentimes ed techs who fill the gaps to provide individualized services to particular kids who are struggling,” Medd said. “And so, not having those positions often makes it very, very difficult. Sometimes, it can just make the difference between a kid sort of, you know, making progress on a regular basis” and falling behind, she said.

Brown said Auburn will do whatever it needs to do to staff classrooms, which could include calling on administrators to pitch in.

Several superintendents shared they also have vacant counselor positions, but not a single applicant.


And other employees, including administrators, bus drivers, kitchen staff and custodial staff, all of whom keep schools running, also remain in short supply. Lewiston and Auburn’s superintendents reported that transportation is somewhat better staffed now than earlier this year, but will remain a challenge going into the fall.

In MSAD 52, administrators are considering contracting services to make up for vacant psychologist, speech pathologist and social worker positions. If hired, these contracted staff members would likely work with students virtually, according to Medd, which she acknowledged would not be ideal.

Some external placement schools have expressed similar problems with staffing and have indicated they may not be able to take as many students as planned, according to Langlais, something which could place even greater strain on the district’s in-school resources.

Langlais said he’s hoping for the best, but has begun considering contingency plans if the district’s staffing situation doesn’t improve or even grows worse. The district, which has more than 200 job postings online, is hosting a hiring fair Friday at The Green Ladle in Lewiston from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to draw new hires in all positions.

To anyone who has ever considered a career in education, there’s no better time than now, he said.

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