Costs a cause of teacher turnover
EAGLE COUNTY ” Nobody claims that teachers have an easy job. It’s long hours catering to a multitude of young and adolescent personalities.
Teachers toil hoping their students learn something, that they score well on the tests and that they score well in life, school officials said.
In Eagle County, teachers have the added obstacle of dealing with students who come and leave the district from year to year and sometimes from month to month, said Eagle County Schools spokeswoman Melinda Gladitsch.
A lot of the students come into the classroom without any knowledge of English. Not knowing the language, combined with poverty, makes it hard to learn, which makes it even harder for teachers, Gladitsch said.
Teachers in the Eagle Valley also have the pressure of being paid based on their performance because of the Teacher Assessment Program, also known as TAP.
Performance is the basis for pay in many other professions, but in the education profession it’s largely based on how long teachers have been with their school districts rather than how well they’re doing.
And outside of the classroom, teachers have to survive in this expensive resort community.
“The No. 1 reason for leaving is the high cost of living,” Gladitsch said.
Rent is higher, groceries cost more, gas is more expensive and even though Eagle County teachers are paid more than in other Colorado school districts ” annual salaries start at $35,932 ” when all the factors are combined, sometimes it’s just not enough to keep teachers in the community.
Eagle County Schools lost 80 teachers during the 2004-05 school year. By the time school starts at the end of August, the district will have hired 95 new teachers, substitutes and guidance counselors to make up for the losses and accommodate a growing student population.
At the beginning of the summer, the Eagle County Schools Web site listed 97 open positions, generally more than surrounding counties and school districts around the state of comparable size.
But the number is misleading, Gladitsch said.
“Of those (97), 39 reflect interim contracts or teachers on one-year nonrenewable contracts,” she said. “Our policy is to automatically terminate these one-year contract positions and post them as open positions.”
The contracts are terminated at the end of each year for new teachers because for the first three years in the school district, teachers are considered probationary. But most of those teachers are rehired.
School officials said teachers with one to three years of teaching time in the district who resigned were usually compelled to do so because their hadn’t improved under the Teacher Assessment Program.
“Research continues to show that high-quality teachers have the most significant impact on student achievement,” Superintendent John Brendza said. “We have put the evaluation tools in place to be far more rigorous in our assessment of quality teaching, and as a result, teachers in their first three years who are not meeting our standards are not being rehired.
“While our critics would like to say that our turnover is higher because of TAP, the fact is that turnover has decreased since the implementation of the program,” he said.
School district numbers showed 59 resignations, or 15 percent turnover, in the 2000-01 school year, the year before TAP was implemented. Three years into the TAP program, there were 43 resignations, or 10 percent turnover.
The district also lost eight teachers to the new Stone Creek charter school.
With the start of the school year just around the corner, school district staff estimated teacher turnover for the 2005-06 school year will be slightly higher than previous years ” 18 percent vs. 15 percent during the 2004-05 school year.
But because the Eagle County school district doesn’t factor substitute teachers into its turnover rates, turnover rates will likely be higher when the Colorado Department of Education releases statewide turnover rates later this year.
“We haven’t counted it because it’s always been such a volatile, liquid pool that changes every year,” Gladitsch said. “But we will (count substitutes) going forward, now that we know that’s how the state is looking at it.”
Based on the state’s numbers last year ” which counts substitute turnover ” Eagle County’s turnover rate was 21.1 percent. That’s higher than the Roaring Fork, Durango and Delta school districts, all of which have comparable student and teacher populations and have turnover rates between 12.4 percent and 14.5 percent.
Despite the similarities between Eagle County and the Roaring Fork Valley ” including the non-English speaking, transient, poor population and high cost of living ” Roaring Fork district officials said teacher turnover was lower last school year than it has been in a decade, district spokeswoman Suzie Romig said.
Romig attributed the lower turnover to increased funding ” most recently a voter-approved property tax override that gave $1.8 million to the school district. The increase allows for smaller class sizes, more technology and higher salaries. She also touted the district’s Interest-Based Bargaining, a process that involves teachers in the budgeting and planning process.
The district also recently finished a program that allowed teachers to earn master’s degrees at no cost. More than 60 percent of Roaring Fork teachers now hold master’s degrees.
Similarly sized Mapleton school district in Denver was another story with a 24.8 percent turnover rate during the 2004/2005 school year. Mapleton’s Assistant Superintendent Sam Molinaro attributed the high number to reorganization in the district.
“We went from one large high school to seven smaller high schools, so a lot of our turnover were people who weren’t buying into the process went to other districts,” he said.
A couple years ago, Molinaro added, about half his teaching staff was nearing retirement. With a fresher, younger staff, he said he expects to have a lower turnover rate for the 2005/2006 school year, he said.
Like Mapleton, Eagle County has a young teaching population, and school officials think TAP is the way to keep them.
“We are a high cost of living community and that remains one of the key reasons teachers leave our valley,” Brendza said. “It is one of the reasons we are implementing a performance-based compensation program that allows our best teachers to earn more.
“The highest performing teachers in our first cohort of TAP schools are now making on average 11 percent more than they would have under the previous compensation system,” he said.
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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