August 23, 2022
A week into the school year, we had 141 classroom teacher vacancies. The teacher “shortage” is a national problem. That’s true. But we never acknowledge that Richland One lost more teachers than most any district in the state last year and that we currently have the largest number of vacancies in the entire state.
I asked what we are doing to ensure we do not lose another 20% of our teachers at the end of this year. The head of HR responded that the district is providing a longevity bonus to teachers. The superintendent also mentioned that the district has additional plans but could not give details until a later date. I look forward to hearing more.
One thing that is clear — we can’t just spend our way out of this problem. First, we don’t have enough money to do that. Second, it’s not just about the money. The working conditions we create for our teachers matter.
That is part of the reason that I asked the district to provide the school board with the teacher turnover rate for each school in the district. I also requested that the district provide the board with the exit interviews of teachers who left last year. The administration continues to withhold this information. I will never understand why the board has not been provided with that critical data.
I also asked that we have a committee comprised of the different employees that make up a school speak with the board once a quarter. It would be helpful for the board to hear directly from the folks who work in our schools. The superintendent responded by saying that the district already does this. That was the end of that discussion.
At every turn, the administration seems to be working to shield the board from more information, and the board seems content to remain in the dark.
We learned that we have 171 J1 international teachers. Most of these teachers will have to return to their home country within 3-5 years of starting to work. Richland One has — as far as I am aware — the largest percentage of international teachers of any medium or large-sized district in the state. This concerns me for the following reasons:
- there is necessary turnover baked into these hires, and
- I do not believe we can provide the extra support this large number of international teachers require
Let me say this — I have worked with some absolutely incredible and brilliant international teachers. My concerns are not about their competence as teachers. Rather, I am concerned that we have so many teachers that we cannot provide the extra support they need. Many international teachers arrive shortly before school begins and live in an apartment with someone they don’t know. They also do not have a car, a driver’s license, furniture, and other basic needs. That is on top of the already-difficult task of bridging the huge cultural differences that usually exist.
While I believe the district has done a better job of assisting our international teachers, I am concerned that we are simply relying on them too much to address our failure to retain our teachers. I would like to see us lower the number of international teachers we are hiring to ensure that we have more resources to more fully support each international teacher.
I continue to hear from teachers with concerns about payroll issues — primarily but not only dealing with summer school pay. They have repeatedly indicated that these issues are not limited to this past summer. The frustration among the teachers who have reached out is very high, and a number of teachers indicated that they would no longer sign up for summer school in this district. Some teachers have also indicated that they will move to another district to avoid the headaches associated with getting paid appropriately.
This news story provides a glimpse into just one of the issues that have frustrated teachers recently.
We cannot ignore our teacher turnover problem, refuse to provide the board with important information, ignore long-term and serious issues with paying our teachers correctly and on time, and then say, “we’ll give you a longevity bonus and a few self-care days,” and hope teachers will stay. They won’t.
I will renew my request that we conduct an audit of our payroll department to figure out what the problem is, so we can fix it once and for all.