What are your thoughts about the teacher turnover rate and what do you see as a possible solution?
There has to be an element of trust and respect. Trust of the teachers towards the administration, and respect of the administration to the teachers. When that relationship has been negatively affected, I think you see a higher turnover rate because the teachers’ autonomy, their professionalism, their skill and expertise, is no longer being recognized and respected. The good news is, I think that fix can be made with just some attention. Some consideration. Positive business management skills. Making our teachers feel in control of the direction of the classroom.
A lot of the initiatives that have been presented over the course of the past five years–your Jim Shipley curriculum, your post-it notes and mission statements that go along with the classroom management system, the federal initiatives of Engage New York–that takes autonomy away from the teachers. Those processes are not absolutely necessary for quality functioning within the classroom. In many cases, I think teachers are much better off with the freedom to teach as they have learned, that they have found best suits the individual students. So teacher autonomy, respect, healthy relationships, trust, respect mutually exercised, will all be helpful in retaining and securing our professional teachers.
The teacher turnover rate, as far as–there was a rather significant number of teachers that left the district as well as retired, I think, right after Act 10. And that can be attributed to just the changes and the benefits and so on. And recently, I don’t know that really there is that high a teacher turnover. I mean in the minds of some, I grant you, but when you compare it to turnover rates in other industries, it’s pretty much on average.
Certainly we want to retain the best teachers we can, and one of the ways to do that is to try to boost morale, and that is hopefully going to happen with good communication between the teachers and the administrators. And that’s happening too, the teachers do have input, they do have the leadership groups in the different schools in the school district. And so I think we just need to focus on the positives, and focus on the positives that the teachers are contributing in our school district, focus on what we do offer to our teachers. I think it’s certainly commensurate to what other school districts are offering. I don’t think you could find a better health care program than what we’ve got here in the West Bend School District. I guess focus on the positive and the teachers, and focus on their contributions, and I think that’s going to go a long ways towards retaining good teachers.
I want to be sure that we give them more respect and more voice. I know that people in administration are saying, “No we’re listening to them, we’re giving them a voice,” but we want to be sure that if there are people representing the teachers and taking the teachers’ concerns to administration, that those people are chosen by teachers. So I don’t want it to be something where the superintendent, or some people in administration say, “You’re going to be the spokesperson for all the teachers.” Teachers might think, “Well, you were hand-picked for a reason.” I want them to feel completely comfortable with things like the whole ruckus with Engage New York; if we take more time to listen to what teachers have to say about it, people at Badger [Middle School] may be more “Yes, we want this,” while people at the high school are like, “We put a lot of time into creating our own curriculum, it’s not going to work for us.” We need to listen to what teachers have to say, value them.
I also think that since Act 10, it’s been really easy to balance budgets on the backs of teachers. And by that I mean that yes, okay, they’re paying more for benefits. I understand that, but it’s to the point where we look at budgets, and we’re like, “Oh, a big piece of the pie is our benefits and our staffing.” And there are fixed costs that we can’t do anything about, but if we keep pecking away and keep asking teachers to pay more and more for benefits and we’re freezing their wages, we’re not going to have a competitive situation where teachers are going to want to come here or stay here. That’s something that needs to be considered, too.
To start with, I think the fact that the turnover rate itself is a problem I think has been overstated. We have seen numbers, and our HR director communicates with many other people in her position around southeastern Wisconsin, so we do have some comparisons of what’s normal. I’ve seen studies just from business and that kind of thing, and now we have had some idea of what other districts are experiencing as well. So I think the idea that we have a turnover rate that’s greater than anybody else is a falsehood to start with. So I’ll put that out there, and then obviously it’s not something you want to have grow or get out of control.
Some of it is the post Act 10 environment, in that because the hiring rules and the compensation rules and things like that have changed from district to district, there’s going to naturally be a little more movement because if you’re a teacher in one district you kind of have a path of how you’re going to advance in your career and get raises and that kind of thing. If you are going to go to a different district and fill a need, you can start at a different level. It’s no longer just the fact that you are, let’s say eight years experience and you have a masters degree, well in the old days, that kind of put you at a certain salary level. And it was very comparable from district to district.
Now, especially if you’re in a demand area like math or science or something like that, you can literally jump districts and improve your status. Because you’re filling a need for them, they may be paying a little more than your current district would be. So you’re going to naturally see some of that movement happen more now than it did in the past. We have to be aware of that and obviously try to–if you have a good teacher you may have to go to them–I kind of compare it to professional sports where it’s sort of ‘free agency’ where you may want to keep your own people, and you may have to jump them salary wise by four or five thousand dollars to say, “We value what you’ve been doing and we don’t want you to go over here.” That’s a way that you can fight that. But the environment’s changed a little bit from the past, so I think the idea that this is happening more in our district is kind of one of those rumors that has been spread around that really isn’t true.
– Interviews and transcriptions by Alyssa Birkeland, Current Staff
Read more about Jenn Donath, Tiffany Larson, Randy Marquardt, and Ken Schmidt at The Current, including their full responses regarding policy change and hiring a new superintendent and high school principal. Earlier coverage can be found here.
The school board election is Tuesday, April 5.