Legislators, officials go to school

Michelle Manning, District 4 school board member-elect, strolls through the cosmetology department at Triplett Tech Career and Technical Center in Mount. Jackson on Friday during the Virginia School Boards Association's Take Your Legislator to School program. Rich Cooley/Daily

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy,” – John Dewey.


MOUNT JACKSON  – Virginia public schools opened for the school year with about 1,000 substitute teachers.

That is 1,000 teaching jobs that could not be filled, said Mark Johnston, Superintendent Shenandoah County Public Schools, one of several messages he delivered to a group of state and local officials on Friday at the Shenandoah County Public Schools “Take Your Legislator to School” day. The event took place at Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson.

Teacher shortages used to occur in higher skilled classes, such as science and math. For the first time in his years of teaching, shortages are being seen for health and physical education as well as elementary education, Johnston said.

Shenandoah County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston speaks to a group of local and state legislators during Triplett Tech Career and Regional Governor's School Take Your Legislator to School Day on Friday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah County Public Schools has had a teacher turnover rate of 15 percent for each of the last two school years.

“In two years, we lost 30 percent of our staff,” Johnston said. “In five to six years you have a complete turnover of staff.”

That means loss of experience and skills from an employee that the school system invested in training.

“What business can you think of, who sees it as a good thing to turn over staff every 10 years? Johnston asked rhetorically. That is not good.”

There are four main reason teachers have identified as causes for their leaving, Johnston said.

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, speaks during the Take Your Legislator to School program Friday at Triplett Tech Career and Technical Center in Mount. Jackson. Rich Cooley/Daily

One reason is the low salary and benefits.

Salaries of teachers in Virginia are 11.5 percent below the national average, he said. Virginia teachers earn an average salary of $49,869 compared to the national average of $56,383.

Students thinking of a career path in education instead choose other careers that pay more.

Another reason is a perceived lack of respect for teachers who feel their jobs are undervalued.

One more reason is being overworked.

Town of Strasburg mayor Rich Orndorff, center, chats with electricity instructor Dagan Stephens, left, and student Logan Roberson, 17, of Strasburg during a tour of Triplett Tech Friday during The Virginia School Board Association's Take Your Legislator to School Day. Rich Cooley/Daily

Johnston listed other stressors on the public school systems, such as unfunded mandates.

Federal funding aid to education should cover the cost of programs and services mandated at the federal level, Johnston stated.

It is also the states responsibility to fund the cost of testing required by state and federal accountability programs.

Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, was taking notes during Johnston’s speech.

“We do have major problems faced by our education system,” Gilbert said

“The issue we  can solve the fastest by being aggressive is the teacher shortage,” he said afterward.

It will take a multi-faceted approach including financial incentives and changing the way teachers are employed, he said.

Funding, however, can be a tricky issue when everyone wants a piece of the financial pie.

Gilbert estimated that 95 percent of the requests made to his office are for funding.

Medicaid is an ever growing need for funding, representing more than 20 percent of the state budget.

That means less money for other needs.

“It is felt by education,” Gilbert said.

If money is not available, then federal and state demands could be removed to save school systems money.

“We started to do that a few years ago when we removed five required SOL tests,” Gilbert said.

But many mandates have to do with accountability to make sure schools are educating students.

Balancing accountability with financial burdens is tricky.

“You have to find the sweet spot,” Gilbert said.

Officials at the event took a tour of Triplett Tech afterward.

School board member-elect Michelle Manning, District 4, walked with student Trevor Adams, who is in the electrical program.

“This is my first time in Triplett Tech. I am so impressed. I wish there had been a Triplett Tech in Florida, Manning said,  referring to the state where she grew up.

Adams graduates this year but will continue his studies at Triplett Tech for a couple more years to obtain his journeyman’s electrician card.

The school has been more then studies to him.

“This place has taught me a lot, how to work hard and how to talk to people,” Adams said.