KALISPELL, Mont. — Montana is an attractive place to live, but maybe not for educators. A report from the Office of Public Instruction showed districts across the state are finding it difficult to fill teacher and administrator positions.
The report, which was presented to the Montana Board of Public Education, put special education supervisor, speech-language pathologist, library/media and superintendent among the most difficult positions to fill.
“What I would call it is a shortage of educators, at all levels, all positions,” Montana School Boards Association executive director Lance Melton said.
The Montana School Boards Association assists school districts in recruiting and hiring superintendents. Melton said this can be a difficult task.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re a rural, isolated state,” Melton said.
In Kalispell the school district sometimes struggles to fill specialty positions -- school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist and special education teachers -- but Superintendent Mark Flatau said it doesn’t have to do with geography.
In fact, Kalispell’s location draws applicants from across the country, Flatau said.
“The typical (job inquiry email) is, ‘We vacationed in Glacier and loved the area and are hopeful in relocating,’” he said.
A common problem is salary.
“When the reality hits is when they find our ability to pay is not up to snuff,” Melton said.
Melton said superintendent salaries in the state are between 15 and 20 percent below comparable markets.
Teacher salaries are also lower than average. According to the National Education Association, the average teacher salary in Montana in 2017 was $51,422, below the national average of $59,660.
“I would say that our salaries in the Flathead Valley have not kept pace with the cost of living,” Flatau said. “If you look at Bozeman, I know the cost of living in Bozeman is even higher than Kalispell, but their salaries have been able to keep a better pace with the cost of living.
According to district documents, the base starting teacher salary in Bozeman is higher than Kalispell, Whitefish and Missoula.
Despite that, Flatau said the Kalispell district sees as many as 30 applications for posted elementary teaching positions.
Melton said while finding superintendents can be difficult, he doesn’t the quality of hires is impacted.
“I don’t think it affects the quality of the people we’re getting. It’s just harder to get them,” he said. “I’d stack the quality of our administrators and our teachers and our superintendents against any I’ve met across the country over the years.”