Wanted: special education teachers. Apply almost anywhere in California.

Usually by this time of year, most school districts are fully staffed and ready to start the upcoming school cycle.

But teachers in some districts have until July 1 to confirm whether they'll return in the fall, and in an effort to help fill those last-minute vacancies, the Monterey County Office of Education was recruiting replacements Tuesday.

"We really want to make sure the MCOE provides leadership support for our teachers," said Rosa Coronado, assistant superintendent of human resources. "We have not held recruitments for a while, and this was (County Superintendent Nancy Kotowsk's) idea."

Aimed at teachers from Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties, the job fair was attended by some of the largest districts in Monterey. Among the districts recruiting were Salinas Union High, Monterey Peninsula Unified, and Salinas City Elementary. Their personnel needs are not unlike other California districts. Everybody seems to be looking for special education, math and science teachers.

"Those are the hardest positions to fill," said Leigh Butler, human resources director for the Soledad Unified School District. It is looking for a chemistry teacher and a physics teacher for its high school.

There's an especially high demand for speech therapists, said Patrick O'Donnell, director of student services at Gonzales Unified.


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"We can't find people," he said.

Job prospects for teachers in general appear to be improving after the number of positions steadily declined throughout the state since the recession hit in 2007.

More than 310,000 teachers were employed in California's K-12 system for the 2007-08 school year. By 2011-12, the number had shrunk to fewer than 284,000.

The decrease was less dramatic in Monterey County, which lost less than 4 percent of its teaching population.

"There has been an increase in people hired as interns," said Mark O'Shea, coordinator of the Teacher Education program at CSU Monterey Bay. "This means they're hiring while they're still in the credential program, which displays a shortage in preliminary credentials."

The California Commission on Teaching Credentialing shows a steady decline in participation in credentialing programs, which corresponds to fewer credentials having been issued in the last five years. While 23,320 credentials were issued in 2007-08, the number has gone down by almost 30 percent to 16,450.

"If the trend continues, we may see some substantial shortage areas," O'Shea said.

The veteran educator believes several factors are keeping people away from teaching careers-money, for one, job security and the bashing teachers have been taking in the media.

"When we read in the paper teachers are being told they need to be doing a better job or that they're being dismissed from teaching positions, it does not encourage people to go into teaching," he said.

The problem is more marked for specialties such as physics because college students in these areas are more often encouraged to pursue research. In the last eight years, only one physics teacher has earned a credential in the CSUMB program, O'Shea said.

"In contrast, our math department takes great pride at producing teachers," O'Shea said. "This year, we'll have 18 new math teachers, the highest it's ever been."

Tom s Salinas, 23, is looking for an internship after having completed the credential program at CSUMB. He needed to take some extra tests, so he wasn't able to enter the applicant pool in March when most districts started hiring. But he's hopeful. He's had some interviews and thinks he'll be able to find a job.

"I'd like to teach high school or middle school," he said. 'It's the upper grades I'm most comfortable with."

At least 30 people participated in the MCOE job fair, teachers who were busy filling out applications and getting interviews on the spot.

Karen Fuentes, 51, began teaching at the Santa Rita Union School District in 1983, and has since moved up and down the West Coast. Now she lives in Stockton but is looking to come back to Monterey County and escape the heat.

"The possibilities look good," she said. "I applied to a couple of districts, and I'm barely getting started here."

After 13 years in the education field, Rick Karicas finally obtained his teaching credential last week, and now he's eager to find a full-time position. He only saw two job fairs advertised in California, so he drove from Sacramento to Salinas, where he was raised, to scout the possibilities.

"It says something about this area that they are recruiting," he said. "For a community to reach out to hire quality teachers, it means they care for their children."

Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or cmelendez@montereyherald.com .

AP-WF-07-17-13 0216GMT