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Some Minnesota educators head west in search of jobs

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FARGO -- Minnesota traditionally produces more teachers than it can absorb.

Now, the job market is made tighter by widespread layoffs due to low enrollments and the economic downturn.

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"You've got a combination of laid-off teachers and new teachers that want to come into the work force. It makes it very difficult," said Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators.

What, then, is a young teacher ready to leave college, or a seasoned instructor recently shown the door, to do?

Go west, perhaps.

Job factory

The West Fargo School District hired 41 people this fall to fill new teaching positions.

Another 39 were hired to fill vacancies.

With kindergarten classes bulging, the district doesn't see the boom ending any time soon.

"When you have as many kindergartners as we had, they're just going to go up the ranks. That's going to require new teachers," said Lorna Skavlem, human resources manager for the school district.

Many of those teachers are coming from schools like Minnesota State University Moorhead.

"West Fargo has had more openings than other places," said John Benson, coordinator of elementary and early childhood programs at MSUM's school of teaching and learning.

Seen worse

Benson said the Detroit Lakes School District has also been hiring MSUM graduates, adding that today's market for teachers isn't as discouraging as it was four or five years ago, when he said it seemed no one could get a job locally.

Teaching positions can be found around the country, Benson said, adding that two student teachers he recently mentored have landed employment, one in Omaha, Neb., and the other in Alaska.

"They're going to teaching fairs and getting jobs," he said.

But the hiring blitz in Detroit Lakes may already have run its course, according to Doug Froke, the district's superintendent.

The eight teachers hired last year and 14 hired this year to take care of an uptick in enrollment will likely be enough to handle things for a while, said Froke, who predicted enrollment will stabilize.

Moorhead woes

Besides MSUM graduates, others landing jobs in West Fargo have come from the Moorhead School District, which laid off about 25 teachers last spring.

Around the same time, about 20 teachers left the district because of retirement.

On the plus side, the district hired about 25 teachers this fall, many of them to fill vacancies left by retirements.

On the down side, the district faces a $1 million budget crunch it hoped to remedy with an operating levy that was recently defeated at the polls.

It means more layoffs are a strong possibility, said Ron Nielsen, human resources director.

Nielsen said the district will try to shield classrooms from cuts, but he said it will be difficult, since 75 percent to 80 percent of the budget goes for salaries and benefits.

In demand

With competition fierce for jobs, Nielsen said out-of-work teachers with four-year degrees are accepting paraprofessional positions that require two-year degrees.

While the call in Minnesota for teachers in areas like elementary education and physical education is low, those with specialties in other areas can be in demand, according to Kyte.

He cited special education and what he called the "hard sciences" - physics, chemistry and mathematics.

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