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High teacher turnover a struggle for some districts

More Ohio teachers filed for retirement in 2014-15 than any other school year on record, continuing a recent surge and leaving some schools struggling with high teacher turnover.

The 8,055 retirements recorded by Ohio’s State Teachers Retirement System surpassed the previous record of 7,997 set in 2012-13, according to STRS spokesman Nick Treneff. The past four years’ retirement totals ranked No. 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the past 10 years.

The fallout creates big staffing problems for some districts, and routine turnover for others.

Dayton Public Schools reported 90 retirements and 127 other resignations this year among the 1,046 teachers, nurses, counselors and other staff covered by the Dayton Education Association contract. That’s 20 percent of the staff in a single year, and while DPS said it doesn’t intend to fill all 217 spots, it has only hired 149 so far, and is still trying to fill many positions three weeks into the school year.

“We can’t find them. We’re still looking,” said Lisa Lewis, DPS executive director of human resources, who had to replace 321 teachers over the prior three years. “Whether it’s suburban schools, Miami Valley School, or Jefferson and Trotwood, we’re all competing for the same talent. … And I get it for the teachers — some of them are looking for where they can get the highest pay, and we’re not the highest paying school district.”

While Dayton uses substitute teachers in the meantime, Fairborn City Schools said its 11 percent turnover from resignations and retirements this year was fairly normal, and Fairborn filled the 31 teaching vacancies in the district.

“Attrition is part of every workforce. It’s an opportunity to continue to grow your current staff, and to introduce some new ideas and new strengths,” said Sue Brackenhoff, director of curriculum and instruction at Fairborn. “With changes coming so rapidly the past few years … continuing to invigorate our teaching workforce should really be seen as a good thing.”

Tough losses

Brackenhoff acknowledged that turnover can be difficult when schools lose experienced mentors, subject-matter experts and high school department chairs. Brian Cayot, president of the Centerville Classroom Teachers’ Association, agreed.

“You’re losing people who know how to make great connections with kids and how to challenge them appropriately,” Cayot said. “They’re not having to reinvent the wheel every year, and they have knowledge they can pass along to younger colleagues.”

Cayot said Centerville has a very active mentoring program, where all first-year teachers are assigned a mentor teacher to help them. Mid-career teachers who move into the Centerville district also get support in adjusting to local procedures.

“Centerville has been pretty good at balancing new and veteran teachers. Dollars do matter (new teachers are cheaper), but the district values experience and what a veteran teacher brings to classroom,” Cayot said. “The good side is that new teachers bring in new ideas, new energy, enthusiasm. They’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and they keep the old folks going. If you’re around younger people, it keeps you younger.”

Dayton’s efforts

The problem for school districts trying to fill vacancies is that there appears to be fewer of those new teachers. According to federal data cited by the New York Times, at the same time more teachers are retiring, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by 30 percent from 2010 to 2014.

Dozens of school districts in the greater Dayton area post job openings on the Dayton Area School Employment Consortium, but Dayton’s Lewis said that doesn’t necessarily help her district. With more openings and fewer applicants, some teachers are able to hold out for jobs in high-paying, higher-rated school districts.

“It’s a war for talent, and we’re in it to win it. We’re going to be aggressive this year,” Lewis said. “There are fewer students going into teaching, so that creates an issue of needing to get more creative, and partnering with our local universities.”

Lewis said DPS has “critical vacancies” in a few buildings, as they struggle to find high school math and science teachers — spots that are hard for many districts to fill. Dayton has a contract with Parallel Employment Group to provide reserve teachers (substitutes).

“They are able to supply us with quality, competent, capable reserve teachers as we continue to search for highly qualified talent,” Lewis said. “It’s a stopgap. It’s detrimental because our goal is to make sure every student has a highly qualified teacher in every class. … But it buys us a little bit of time.”

Retirement rules

In all Ohio school districts, a key factor in the surge of retirements is a change in the rules governing retirement plans, which teachers and districts contribute to throughout their careers.

Through June 2015, a qualifying teacher of any age could retire and collect 66 percent of their salary once they had 30 years of service, or they could collect 77 percent of their salary annually if they retired at age 60 with 35 years of service, according to STRS documents.

Those rules will gradually change from now until 2026, with the 60/35 standard staying the same, but benefits being significantly reduced for people who retire before that age or service level.

Cayot said Centerville had 30 to 40 positions turn over annually before the retirement surge. He said there was even one year when the district only had eight new teachers out of 500.

This year, Centerville had 52 teachers leave (about 10 percent), while it was closer to 15 percent in West Carrollton and Trotwood, and nearly 20 percent in Greeneview.

While Centerville left four positions vacant according to superintendent Tom Henderson, and Trotwood had six spots unfilled, other districts replaced everyone and added staff. Lebanon added 2.6 Title I reading positions, and Kettering added 12.85 positions, led by six speech and special education spots.

Fairborn’s Brackenhoff said a bright spot is the fact that new teachers are more likely to be comfortable with the flood of education technology that schools are adding to their curriculum.

“No matter if you’re a new teacher or an old teacher, the focus is always going to be on what’s best for the kids and how to best educate them,” Cayot said. “The number one focus is, what can I do to get my students to perform at their highest level?”

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