The Lawrence school board on Monday heard a report including specific reasons why teachers are leaving the district, like low salaries and overflowing class sizes, as well as an update on the district’s efforts to better recruit and retain employees.
Members of the district’s Human Resources team, including Executive Director Kristen Ryan, Director of Human Resources and Safety Ron May, Director Sarah Hamlin, and Facilitator of Recruitment and Retention Kaitlin Shulman, presented to the board their findings from last school year’s survey on exiting certified staff.
As of May 2021, approximately 150 teachers were exiting the district for a variety of reasons. The HR team conducted an exit survey to ask teachers their reasons for leaving. 86 out of the approximately 150 teachers participated.
According to the results, teachers said the three major general reasons they decided to leave their positions, in order, were competitive salary within the field of education, work-to-life balance, and relocation and retirement — which were tied at third.
National trends of teacher shortages, according to EdWeek Research Center in 2021, indicated that teachers were more likely to consider leaving their positions after the pandemic hit than before.
The three major district-specific reasons teachers said they were leaving their positions included overall district support, overall professional workload, and district administrative leadership, according to the survey results.
Teachers last year left their positions for a range of new jobs, but 51 left to accept other positions in education. Simultaneously, the Lawrence school district hired 62 teachers from other school districts, the HR team said. The exit survey asked those teachers moving to different districts what those districts were offering that the Lawrence school district was not.
Top answers were higher salary and smaller class sizes, which board President Shannon Kimball stressed is ultimately an issue at the state Legislature level as opposed to the school district level.
“I just wanna state it very plainly for anybody who’s listening: districts cannot substantially increase the pay of their teachers or substantially decrease class sizes and case loads without more funding from the state in the base state aid per pupil formula. It’s just not gonna happen,” Kimball said. “There is no amount of moving around the deck chairs that is gonna be enough to close a 25% gap between what a teacher with a bachelor’s degree makes in the teaching profession versus somebody with a bachelor’s degree in private industry.
“… There’s nothing unique about Lawrence Public Schools in this regard … districts across the state, districts across the country are struggling with all of these same issues,” Kimball continued. “And I know that you all [HR team] are working as hard as you can to try to find other ways to address these problems, but at the end of the day, it’s gonna take more dollars.”
Some of the district’s retention efforts include wellness incentives, such as free early childhood learning services for classified staff’s 3- and 4-year old children as well as double incentive pay from last year’s levels.
Despite efforts of holding recruitment fairs and attending job fairs, which the HR team said yielded low attendance of interested candidates, a slew of district positions remain open. Current positions open for hire include 31 certified staff openings and 114 classified staff openings.
The district also hopes to build relationships with student teaching programs, like its partnership with Haskell Indian Nations University student teachers at Prairie Park Elementary School.
Board Past President Erica Hill asked if there were specific efforts to recruit more staff of color, especially since a district report showed students of color, specifically Black students, were lacking in AP enrollment in comparison to their white counterparts. District administration learned the main reason for this is because Black students do not see instructors who look like them teaching those classes.
Ryan responded that everything HR does is “through an equity lens” and that the team is committed to doing so.
During the Lawrence High School homecoming parade on Sept. 21, the district’s union for classified staff, PAL-CWA, rallied in response to low wages and overworked employees. Board members on Monday shared their opinions on the demonstration.
Board Vice President Paula Smith expressed her disapproval, saying “I will say that I was a little alarmed that there was a demonstration during the LHS homecoming parade to voice complaints about the school district. I just have some concerns around that … it just doesn’t sit well with me because I felt like that was a time for students to celebrate their successes and really take pride in how they feel as students in our district.”
Hill agreed with Smith’s sentiments; board member Kelly Jones disagreed and said she understood Smith’s reaction as well as the union’s sense of urgency.
“I think I also understand the imperative call for increases in wages for paraeducators across the state, not just in Lawrence,” Jones said. “And I’m hopeful that not just this board and the work that we’re doing to increase wages, but that in Topeka, our legislators are paying attention to how difficult it is for our community to respond to the request for increases in wages. … There is still a commitment from us to ensure that what was behind the ask, the presence to ensure that we have the opportunity for increases in wages the best way we can, the board is committed to that endeavor.”
Board member Carol Cadue-Blackwood also spoke in support of the union’s demonstration.
“I’m fully in support of the union … I was there in person and I cheered for our para union because they are the ones there that support our kids on a daily basis, so I was glad to see them in the parade with our students,” Cadue-Blackwood said.
The district currently has 1,692 active employees, including administrators, certified staff, classified staff and coaches, according to an HR Update document. 923 are certified staff, including teachers; 562 are classified staff, such as paraeducators, food service workers, custodial personnel and more; 59 are administrators; 77 are Rule 10 employees, or coaches; and 71 are non-contracted employees.
The full report on certified staff retention can be found at this link. The HR team will next analyze results from an exit survey administered to classified staff and present those results at a future board meeting.
The Lawrence school board is scheduled to meet next at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.