LITTLE ROCK — The state Board of Education on Thursday approved requests from the Pine Bluff and Smackover-Norphlet school districts for waivers from certain teacher licensure requirements for five years.


The districts made the requests under a 2015 state law that allows a public school district to seek any waivers granted to a charter school that has drawn students away from the district.


Officials from both school districts said they have been unable to recruit enough teachers to have a highly qualified teacher who is certified in the subject he or she teaches in every classroom.


Dexter Lee, human capital and evaluation officer for the Pine Bluff district, told the board the district has reached out to teacher programs at Arkansas colleges and found few people willing to move to Pine Bluff.


“Pine Bluff is just not on the path that many of those people would like to be on,” he said.


At the board’s August meeting, Pine Bluff High School Principal Michael Nellums said he was unhappy that Superintendent Michael Robinson withdrew an application for a waiver from teacher licensure requirements in May. Nellums said then he had nine positions at the high school still unfilled and the start of school was imminent.


Lee told the board Thursday, “You may ask why did we wait till this time to apply for the waiver? As many of you know, we have a new superintendent in the Pine Bluff School District, and he was coming from another state, and he exercised great wisdom and restraint by saying, ‘I don’t want to apply for something that I don’t fully understand all the caveats of.’”


Lee said Robinson hired him to begin developing a plan for recruiting teachers. He said the district would continue to use certified teachers as much as possible.


“We don’t want to communicate to our constituency that we disregard the importance of certification,” he said.


The district now has 15 open positions across all of its schools, Lee told the board. He said that without the waiver, the school would have to rely on long-term substitute teachers to teach some classes.


Robinson told the board he wants to work with colleges and universities to help them turn out more teachers willing to work in the Pine Bluff area, but he said that supply of teachers does not exist now.


“Where we’re located, we’re not getting people knocking the door down,” he said.


Smackover-Norphlet School District officials also said that district would use certified teachers as much as possible.


Board member Jay Barth of Little Rock was the sole member who voted against the waivers.


“I worry a little bit if we do these broad waivers that are not case by case, that we start to say we’re giving up in some ways,” he said. “We can say we care about this, but these waivers really do, I think, begin to send a pretty strong signal that we’re caving on this most important, fundamental aspect of an adequate education.”