Teacher turnover taxes school system

Mark Johnston

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County continues to lose teachers to divisions whose elected leaders budgeted for pay raises.

The School Board learned Thursday that the division’s turnover rate reached 15 percent for the 2016-2017 year. This marked the second year in a row the division saw a 15 percent turnover rate with many teachers leaving for jobs in other jurisdictions including Winchester, where division employees recently received salary increases. The division turnover rate ranks second highest among area school divisions.

The division experienced a busy hiring season, Superintendent Mark Johnston told the board. Johnston cited a report given earlier in the meeting by Ebbie Linaburg, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, in which she revealed the division turnover rate reached 15 percent each of the past two years.

“That’s not a model representative of effective or efficient or even good business practices,” Johnston said.

Supervisor of Human Resource Linda Hodges provided a “staff excellence update” highlighting the number of vacant positions filled and remaining at the beginning of the year. The report also focused on the division’s turnover rate, where people go when they leave Shenandoah County public schools and why.

“This has been a very frustrating hiring season for us,” Hodges said. “We continue to see folks leave for better pay, benefits and support that are offered by other employers and, specifically, for teachers in other divisions.”

This marked the second year of high turnover for school counselors so the division assigned more mentors to help these new employees, she said, adding that the division hired 24 people from its list of substitute teachers into full-time positions. Of that number, 13 moved to teaching positions. The division now needs to recruit more people for its substitute roster, Hodges said.

The division saw a 6 percent increase this year in the number of vacancies for certified positions it needed to fill.

A report in February by Teachers of Tomorrow found that Virginia needed more than 4,200 educators. At the time, the Virginia Department of Education predicted that number to increase to 6,300 the next year, Hodges said.

She noted that the division needed to fill 60 support staff positions – a 25 percent increase over last year. Almost half the teachers who left the county had more than seven years of experience.

Approximately 54 percent of the division’s teachers last year had seven or more years of experience, Hodges said. These people know the system and the community and they cultivate relationships with students and staff, she noted, adding that 9 percent of the teachers who resigned from the division plan to leave the profession.

Hodges also reported that 86 percent of the teachers who left the division were rated as either exemplary or proficient.

Of the new teachers hired this year, 68 percent have 0-3 years of experience (53 percent with no experience); 7 percent have 4-6 years; 7 percent have seven to 10 years; 10 percent have 11-20 years; and 7 percent have 21 or more years.

The division continues to face the challenge of recruiting experienced teachers to make up for the loss, Hodges said.

Turnover rates in other jurisdictions compare as follows: 11 percent in Clarke and Frederick Counties; 13 percent in Harrisonburg; 14 percent in Page County; 9 percent in Rockingham County; 14 percent in Warren County; and 20 percent in Winchester.

Data showed that 9 percent of the teachers who left Shenandoah County took jobs in the Winchester school system. Another 8 percent took jobs with Loudoun County schools; almost 6 percent went to Rockingham County; nearly 5 percent went to Frederick County; a little more that 2 percent went to Warren County.

The Top 5 reasons employees gave for leaving Shenandoah County: salaries and health insurance contributions, support for teachers such as professional development and student discipline, feeling overwhelmed, and a lack of respect in the community for teachers as professionals.

The division’s turnover rate falls to 13 percent when data on underperforming teachers who resigned in lieu of termination is not included, Hodges said. Historical data revealed a total turnover rate of 50 percent for teachers in the past four years, she said.

A former teacher cited reasons for leaving the division in a resignation letter, part of which Hodges read to the board. The letter cited a “lack of financial support for teachers and staff by the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors” as a reason for leaving. The letter went on to state that the employee would “not miss the excessive testing that has become synonymous with education; the lack of respect by portions of the Shenandoah County public for teachers, schools and public education; and the feeling that I’m responsible for the students in my care but trusted so little by those in positions of higher power to do what I’ve been educated to do.” Hodges noted that the complaints did not refer to the employee’s immediate supervisor or School Board staff but directed at elected officials who make decisions about funding.

The sentiments expressed in the letter reflect those of many employees with whom she conducted exit interviews, Hodges said.

Winchester Public Schools implemented a salary increase in which employees saw raises averaging 3.6 percent, Johnston said. The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors adopted an overall budget that did not provide enough funding to cover the school division’s request that included salary adjustments, Johnston noted. District 3 member Cynthia Walsh pointed out that many employees saw their salaries decrease because of increased health insurance costs.

District 4 representative Kathryn Freakley reacted to Hodges’ report.

“It breaks my heart to hear letters like that because it just doesn’t have to be that way,” Freakley said.

Freakley voiced frustration with the situation made worse by limited funds allocated by the Board of Supervisors in the county budget.

“You know, providing support to the schools takes funding and we present those needs in a needs-based budget every year,” Freakley said. “We’ve tried for a long time to identify where we can provide this support and it shows itself in the request that we make in the needs-based budget.

“I’d love to see the community rally around this information and say ‘hey, now it’s time,'” Freakley added.

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