Growing number of older teachers adds to concerns at N.H. schools

With the recession already forcing school districts across the state to cut costs — including staff — school boards may actually be fighting a battle on another front: replacing an aging workforce.

According to statistics for the current school year provided by the New Hampshire Department of Education to NHBR, 45 percent of teachers are aged 50 and older — with 12 percent older than 60.

As school budgets constrict further, districts all across the state have to lay off teachers, cut jobs by attrition or are considering one or both as well as encouraging early retirement for those who are eligible.

One ray of hope is the federal stimulus package, which earmarked “a large portion of funds” for education, said Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.

But while, “it’s too soon to see the impact” of the funding, he said, the stimulus legislation “does not allow blanket authority to hire back those laid off.”

Although New Hampshire may be facing increased teacher retirements over the next few years, there is some evidence that, despite the current state of the education field, college students are remaining attracted to a career that had once been considered almost recession-proof.

Patricia Cantor, chair of Plymouth State University’s Education Department, said, “Anecdotally, I have noticed that quite a few students in recent weeks have changed their majors to childhood studies or early childhood studies from other majors at PSU or from undecided. And one business major wrote to me to inquire about adding a teaching minor (something we don’t have) because he wanted to have teaching ‘to fall back on’ in these hard times.”

While she said it’s still too early to tell if the recession led to an increased enrollment in education programs at PSU, Cantor also pointed out that New Hampshire’s teachers haven’t experienced the mass layoffs other states have had, such as Arizona, California, Michigan — even Massachusetts — where thousands have been handed pink slips.

“The stimulus package is bringing a lot of money into education, and that is helping to prevent some job loss,” said Cantor. “The ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] and the budget have also brought new money into early childhood programs. I tell my early childhood students this is a great time to be in their field — early childhood is definitely a growth industry, with many states (all but 12) offering state-sponsored preschool programs and Head Start and Early Head Start expanding.”

For its part, the Education Department lists nearly a dozen programs designed to recruit more people to the profession, including specialized efforts to recruit teachers in science, technology, math and engineering, enhancing programs to bring those from other careers into the field, as well as to attract teachers to work at schools in the North Country.

Joyce, meanwhile, said he wonders what the recession’s impact will be on education over the next few years.

“Significant cost will be sent back to the cities and towns. It could be catastrophic for special education, which is underfunded,” he said. “Kids don’t go away with a recession. Those needs are still there. The challenge is to do more with less.”

Cindy Kibbe can be reached at