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Big-city school districts have pressing needs for special education, bilingual and minority teachers, according to a survey that says some districts are being forced to hire uncertified instructors.

Districts that responded to the survey also say math, science and elementary teachers are in demand."To meet the shortage, some districts will have to issue emergency licenses or credentials, which is risky because you're putting unprepared teachers in the classroom," said Michael Casserly, director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the 47 large city districts surveyed.

The survey addressed teacher shortages in urban school districts, but the problem is widespread and is expected to get worse because of increasing enrollment and rising teacher retirements.

"Fully one-third of America's 2.5 million K-12 public school teachers today are moving into their retirement years," says Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association. "The student population is rising rapidly, due to the mini-baby boom and increased immigration."

The Education Department projects the teaching force will grow from 2.5 million in 1980 to 3.3 million by the year 2002.

"This should be a wake-up call to the nation," said David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers Inc., an organization working to attract people to the teaching profession.

Demand is so keen for special education, secondary math and science and bilingual elementary teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District that once one is hired, the district immediately starts searching again.

"It's like putting water in a sand hole," said Michael Acosta, administrator of employment operations for the district, the second largest in the nation. "What it causes us to do is recruit people who aren't fully credentialed - they're working and training at the same time."

Thirty-nine school districts responded to the survey released Wednesday. Among its findings:

- 77 percent of the districts hire uncertified teachers in response to shortages.

- 64 percent let uncertified teachers teach with emergency licenses.

- 40 percent allow long-term substitutes to be hired.

- 33 percent permit teachers to use provisional licenses.

- 27 percent let uncertified interns or apprentices teach.

More than 90 percent of the large city school districts surveyed cite an immediate demand for minority teachers.