Puerto Rico Education secretary projects 400 teachers still needed
SAN JUAN – Although data from Puerto Rico’s Education Department in July 21 indicated that the system was still looking for 1,844 teachers ahead of the upcoming school year, Education Secretary Julia Keleher was confident that the number will be reduced to 400 by the beginning of the semester.
In an interview with Caribbean Business, Keleher said that she will take full responsibility for whatever outcome, “be it good or bad.”
“I am responsible. And if I do something wrong, the people can call me out for it and I should learn from it because they deserve that I provide them a high-quality system…for the classrooms are there,” she said.
She has her hands full, running systems she knows are bureaucratic, complicated and probably erratic; adjusting expenses to a budget that is 10 percent smaller; and looking at how, with time, she reorganizes the system so it can meet student needs.
Of the 1,844 teachers yet to be named, 587 are for Special Education; 439 for elementary and high school English; 327 for vocational programs; 307 for math, science, and Spanish at the high school level; and the rest are for basic and additional courses. The government will also need 67 social workers and 24 guidance counselors.
“I have a situation here that for years the population’s needs aren’t reflected in the human resources classifications that are part of my system, and that is a big problem,” said the official, who stressed that there are serious problems in the way the Education Department interviews and hires teachers.
Fewer contracts have not, however, resulted in shift violations against hopeful teachers, Keleher said, dismissing accusations from teacher unions.
She added that changes in data are caused because several department employees who don’t introduce the new information digitally until the end of the day, which sets the process back.
Keleher confirmed that her department placed teachers who are classified as as “surplus” due to the budget cuts in areas that aren’t their specialty because “I’m paying for a resource and I have a need.”
“A teacher is a teacher. The content, depending on what it is, whether it is physics or algebra, there are some things teachers know how to do. The teacher is supposed to facilitate the learning process,” said the secretary, who hopes to subsidize courses these teachers take to adjust to their new subject with Title II federal funds.
As for hiring temporary teachers, she said they can only complete 3,200 contracts, as approved by the Office of Management and Budget. By July 21, the department had hired 2,390 temporary employees, which highlights the system’s next problems, because it still needs 1,800 professionals.
Roughly 1,000 additional temporary teachers could be hired by the “Team Teaching” program subsidized with federal funds.
As for the 587 teachers needed for Special Education, Keleher said the agency still has openings, so the number could be lower soon. She expected that many contracts could lead to regular teachers based on the recurring need in this area.
Despite criticisms of a possible crisis in that program, the Education secretary emphasized that she requested the approval of nearly 3,600 assistants (Workers I) to satisfy student needs.
“We are not behind schedule; the problem is that with days, the number of people, and the way these processes are done out of habit, well it leads us to where we are, but everything is happening and in Special Education the effort was to transform those positions to protect services for those children and to have everything ready, but we have to go through the administrative process,” she stated.
Urges parents to enroll their children
According to Keleher, the department’s contract situation worsens with parents and guardians’ neglect at the beginning of the school year, enrolling their children at the last moment.
This is why she urged parents to enroll their children in their preferred school as soon as possible, in order to adjust hiring based on schools’ needs according to the number of students they will have.