School district says lack of affordable housing keeps many teachers from moving to Moab
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Aug 28, 2014 | 3133 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Helen M. Knight Elementary School Assistant Principal Lee Petty accepted the job in Moab, he didn’t expect to have such a hard time finding a place to live.

“I wasn’t sure we were going to get to keep him,” HMK Principal Taryn Kay said.

Petty, who noted that local rent prices have doubled since he last lived in Moab 15 years ago, finally found a place to rent two days before his wife was scheduled to arrive.

“The secretary at the high school had a friend,” he said. “When I went in, he had a huge stack of applications.”

School district officials say that the lack of affordable housing, combined with the high cost of living in Moab, are making it increasingly difficult to fill faculty positions a local schools.

During the Aug. 20 Grand County Board of Education meeting, Grand County High School Principal Stephen Hren said that 15 of the high school’s 37 teachers are new employees this year. While some of those job openings were the result of people transferring within the school, several were new hires, he said.

Hren told the school board that the school ran into difficulties in hiring a new auto shop teacher because of the expense associated with living in Moab.

“We interviewed 13 candidates and offered the job seven times,” Hren said, adding that he believes many of the people who applied for the job weren’t aware of the cost of living in the area until after they received the job offer.

“There are so many people who don’t do their homework,” Hren said. “We got to the point where we were starting our interviews by asking people if they had researched the area and what it cost to live here and then showing them our pay scale.”

“It’s very frustrating when you hire a person, then they turn down the job because they realize they can’t make it here,” he added.

While the administration did manage to fill all of the open positions, Hren said he doesn’t expect the situation to improve in the future if housing costs remain high. Because of the difficulties in hiring, some of the new employees are not fully qualified for the positions for which they were hired and will need to receive additional training, Hren said.

“Looking at our demographic, I see this as a trend,” he said regarding the lack of fully qualified candidates.

Grand County School District Director of Special Education Sherrie Buckingham said that trend is especially prevalent among the special education teachers throughout the district.

Grand County Middle School Principal Melinda Snow said one of the new teachers at GCMS is commuting every day from Blanding because of the high cost of housing locally.

During the meeting, GCHS Associate Principal Cari Caylor suggested that the district try to have short-term housing options lined up for new teachers for the first few weeks of the new school year.

“If we had people who were willing to open even just a room in their house,” she said, adding that the housing market becomes less competitive as the summer winds down.

Grand County School Superintendent Scott Crane said there are a lot of people who are willing to help out in the short term, but the school district and the community need to look for long-term solutions.

“We need to look at the long term,” he said. “It needs to be a priority. It’s not going to get any better.”

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