OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Probably the singular most important statewide office to California's long term future is the Superintendent of Public Instruction, but not for the reason you may think.
It's a nagging issue that could upset the state's dominance in future technologies: teachers calling it quits.
The next superintendent's first and foremost job will be to get enough qualified teachers because everything hangs on that. But with the average California teacher's salary beginning at $45,000 a year, the financial incentive to teach is not compelling, especially compared to other careers requiring a college education.
"I think that they're finding that there are other professions that they can go to that are where they can make ends meet," said Contra Costa County Schools Superintendent Karen Sakata. And the clock is ticking.
"Many of our educators are near retirement age, so, we have more openings than we've ever had before," said Superintendent Sakata.
Not only are many retiring, many are outright quitting, some even before the school year ends. An update from Oakland Tech High advises parents that the sophomore English teacher just quit. That school is now short two English teachers because the another one is gone too.
Tara Kini watches state education issues for the Learning Polity Institute, a think tank to improve learning for children.
"About 90% of demand for new teachers is driven by teachers leaving. Right. And most of that is driven by teachers leaving before they hit retirement. Teachers leaving because they're dissatisfied with their job or their working conditions for some reason," said Ms. Kini. That's true of some of the most critical disciplines, math and science, were far better paying Bay Area tech jobs abound.
Oakland schools are no exception to mid-term teacher departures, but currently it's not a critical problem said spokesman John Sasaki.
But it is bad for the students. "You've got 30 people who are directly dependent on that person to be there and to be stable every day in class. So, it multiplies the effect perhaps," said Oakland Schools Spokesman John Sasaki. A study in the American Educational Research journal found that on average, students whose teachers left mid-year lost 54 days of academic growth, about a third of the school year compared to kids with teachers who stayed.
"The more stability we have in our schools, the better off it is for everyone," said Sasaki.
Nationwide, California already ranks near the bottom in student-to-teacher ratios, meaning California needs 100,000 more teachers just to get to the national average.