BISMARCK – North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has asked the state’s teacher licensing board to make changes to a proposed policy that would allow school districts to hire “community experts” for hard-to-fill teaching positions.  

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The proposed changes were sent to the Education Standards and Practices Board on Wednesday morning. ESPB Executive Director Janet Welk said she was trying to schedule a board meeting for Thursday or Friday to discuss them.

Some public schools in the state already have resumed classes, and Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said it’s unknown when the governor will make a final decision on the proposed one-year policy.

“We’ve got to see what they come back to us with,” he said of the board.

The proposal would allow districts to issue a letter of approval to someone from the community who isn’t a licensed educator but has a specific area of expertise related to the teaching assignment.

Community experts could teach only in non-core subject areas such as health and business and could not be used to fill elementary teaching positions, Welk said.

The plan has met resistance from North Dakota United, a public employees union that represents roughly 7,000 active teachers. President Nick Archuleta has called it an ineffective stopgap remedy that won’t address the real reasons why some districts have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers.

“We’re opposed to having unlicensed, unqualified, untrained teachers in the classroom, and that remains our position,” he said Wednesday.

Kayla Effertz Kleven, a senior policy advisor to the governor, said the most significant change requested would remove references to a teaching “license,” while also clarifying that community experts won’t be eligible for the teacher pension plan.

Another change would require a community expert to have “work experience demonstrating the necessary communication skills for the teaching assignment.”

“Defining what that work experience is will be an interesting discussion that they’ll have to have,” Welk said of the board.

The other requested changes include:

  •  Requiring districts to provide not only the proposed level of compensation for a community expert, but also how that compares to the pay for a first-year teacher.
  •  Requiring community experts to meet regularly with a mentor employed by the school district, which is more specific than the mentoring language in the board’s draft policy.
  •  Mandating that the board prepare a written report on the results of the program at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

A survey conducted by the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders and answered by 129 of the state’s 179 districts revealed 72 open elementary teaching jobs and 102 unfilled high school and middle school jobs as of Aug. 3.

Archuleta noted there were about 200 unfilled positions at the same time the previous year, and he said the union favors sitting down with all stakeholders and developing a long-term plan to address the teacher shortage. He said the No. 1 thing that can be done is to make communities attractive places to live and work by improving salary packages and giving teachers more autonomy in their classrooms.

“I think the language is better, certainly, but I don’t think this is the solution that they think it’s going to be,” he said after seeing the changes requested by the governor.

The community expert proposal emerged from a teacher shortage task force assembled in June by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler. Welk said that group will continue to explore long-term solutions to the teacher shortage during the coming year, noting the board has hired a temporary employee to collect data on the shortage.

School districts opened the 2014-15 year with more than 80 openings, and Welk said she expects a similar situation this year, underscoring the urgency to get the plan in place.

“We’re ready to go. The forms are ready to go,” she said.