School starts on Monday, but most school districts in the Eagle Ford Shale region south of San Antonio still don't have enough teachers to fill their bulging classrooms, and many say they are not optimistic they will be able to hire enough teachers by the time the bell rings, Newsradio 1200 WOAI's Stephanie Narvaez reports.
The reason...the school districts simply can't offer anywhere near the level of pay that is being offered in the oilfields.
"We've had a tremendous turnover in employees," said Wayne Block, who is a personnel manager with the Karnes City ISD. "We have a very difficult time hiring people. We've had to increase our salary structure to get our staff full."
This comes at a time when classrooms in the small town school districts that dot the Eagle Ford are reporting record enrollments, as the children of people who have moved to the area to work in the Eagle Ford settle in and start sending their kids to school. An estimated 120,000 jobs have been created in the region just since 2011, turning cotton fields and cattle ranches into subdivisions and transforming forever the slow pace of the Brush Country.
Block says they have another problem. If they are able to convince teachers in other cities to move to Three Rivers or Alice or Cotulla, where they desperately need teachers, there is no place for them to live.
"We definitely have growth, but it is much more gradual than you would think there might be, just simply because we don't have the housing," Block said.
He says the shortage of custodians and other skilled maintenance personnel is even more serious, because those people have exactly the type of skills that are most prized in the oil fields.
Eagle Ford districts are trying several strategies to deal with the shortage of teachers, from doubling up programs with neighboring districts to 'sharing' personnel with the drilling companies, the old fashioned method of raising salaries.
"We survey schools in the area to see what we have to do to remain competitive and then we move accordingly," he said.
Block says it has always been a challenge to attract teachers to rural parts of the state, where there is less for young people to do, fewer social and leisure activities, and they are likely to be far from friends and family in large cities.
"I definitely think that as long as production stays high this is going to be a definite problem for us," he said. "It's not like we have a surplus of people applying in the past, but this has made it a lot more difficult for us."