School districts across the state are having trouble finding enough teachers to fill their positions — especially in certain subject areas such as physics.

Iowa Department of Education teacher preparation consultant, Tom Bice, says smaller districts have the worst trouble finding teachers. He says pay could be one issue. “Not surprisingly, some of the larger places like Ankeny, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Ames, places like that generally pay more for beginning teachers. But there are some rural areas that will pay relatively high,” Bice says.

There is state has a minimum starting teacher salary of $33,500. The latest information Bice has is one year old, but shows most schools paying more to get new teachers. “There were still 14 districts that were paying 33-five. Most of them pay something about that. The highest one — most beginning teachers can make around $50,000 — so there is a huge discrepancy there in salary,” Bice says.

He says another factor in districts finding teachers is the low unemployment rate in the state. Bice says teachers may be recruited away to other jobs. “When they come out of there with that degree it is a very, very good degree to use in a lot of work in other than just teaching,” according to Bice. “And so if somebody comes out of college and can make 30-500 ($30,500) teaching, and can make 50 (thousand) doing something else — they have to be really, really dedicated to do that teaching.”

He has worked in teacher preparation and has seen prospective teachers lured away because of the skills they bring in a tight job market. “You’re learning how to think on your feet, you’re learning how to manage difficulties, you’re learning how to think quickly and to reason…and to work with people. It makes you very marketable,” Bice explains.

A change in state law took collective bargaining out of the equation for teacher salaries. Bice says there’s not enough information yet to determine if that has changed things compared to the way teacher salaries used to work. “The school has a set budget and before collective bargaining went away, basically the district and the union would negotiate a salary structure,” Bice says. “So if you had X number of years of experience and X number of credit hours, then you got paid X. And that was all negotiated ahead of time.”

He says there could be a benefit to some teachers in shortage areas who want to leverage more money. “You may be able to bargain yourself. If you are a physics teacher and you’re getting looked at by four different schools — you might have some leeway in trying to get some more salary. It depends on what type of school structure that school has,” Bice says. He says most schools still use some sort of pay structure, even without collective bargaining, and the salaries paid by the districts are based on that structure.