When classes start next fall, teachers new to the Prince George's County schools will be eligible for more than a room full of pupils. In an unusual program sponsored by county businesses, teacher recruits will be offered a free month's rent, cheaper car loans and a credit card free of annual fees.
The package of incentives, announced yesterday by business executives spearheading the effort, is aimed at making the county more competitive in recruiting teachers in the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage.
"If all of this works, some of the brightest and most gifted teachers in the Northeast will be coming here," said Winfield M. Kelly Jr., president of the schools' Advisory Council for Business and Industry, which organized the program.
The county, which employs more than 5,000 teachers, is expected to need 400 new teachers next school year. Statewide, officials have projected that they will need 9,000 new teachers during the next two years, while state colleges and universities are expected to graduate only about 3,000 new teachers.
"It's a sellers' market," said school spokesman Brian J. Porter. "When all of us are competing on an equal salary level, any additional help by the business community certainly helps us catch the attention of prospective teachers."
The business leaders said Prince George's is the first jurisdiction in which such incentives are offered.
Announcement of the program comes as county teachers, who now earn among the lowest salaries in the Washington area, approach a vote on a tentative contract settlement that would raise wages significantly. The proposed three-year contract would increase starting wages from $15,738 to $19,000 next year.
The program, which is open to all new teachers who join the system by Aug. 1, includes several incentives designed to attract new teachers who are graduating from college, many of them lacking credit and saddled with student loans. A housing development firm with 4,000 apartment units in a dozen complexes across the county, is waiving the normal security deposits as well as offering a free month's rent for teachers who sign up by the August deadline. Rent at the apartments ranges from $450 to $700 a month, business executives said.
Teachers signing up by that date will also be eligible for discounted consumer and car loans and 20 percent discounts at several county restaurants. Businesses, including construction companies and restaurants, have agreed to hire teachers over the summer months, according to Raymond G. LaPlaca, a county developer who headed the recruiting effort for the businesses.
Paul Pinsky, president of the County Educators Association, said the effort is "well-intended . . . but what are they doing to keep experienced teachers?" He said more than 350 teachers left the school system last year. "I hope some of these efforts help . . . but it's going to take a national, state and local refocusing of priorities" to improve teaching conditions and salaries.
The program also will send as many as six business executives along with school system recruiters to conferences in Boston and at the University of Maryland to meet graduating teachers.
The Advisory Council for Business and Industry recently sponsored a $200,000 series of television spots promoting county schools.