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High attrition rates continue to plague school district

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Jan 24, 2023

The School District of Lee County continues to lose employees at a heavy rate, which officials hope to stymie through such things centralized hiring and guest teachers.

Human Resources Executive Director Robert Dodig told the school board this week that the district is coming off of a year where it hired the most new school-based instructional staff of 678 employees, which was also the year they lost the most employees, 929. In fiscal year 2020 there was only a 134 position gap.

“To keep up with it we have to do more to reverse the trend with employee termination,” he said.

For fiscal year 2021 and 2022, the percentage of instructional personnel turnover is at 29 percent, compared to fiscal year 2020 of 19 percent.

“It increased in post-COVID year. The 29 percent includes not just people that left the district, but people that transferred within the district,” Dodig said. “Eleven point seven percent in fiscal year 2022 transferred within the district, 17 percent terminated or left employment with the district.”

Non-instructional personnel turnover was at 34.7 percent for fiscal year 2022, compared to 26.7 percent the year prior.

“Our benchmark in our strategic plan is 8 percent, which we have never met,” Dodig said.

The district, however, has exceeded the 75 percent mark of converting offers to hires with fiscal year 2021 and 2022 exceeding 80 percent.

The critical issue lies among the percentage of teachers separating for non-compliance with credential requirements. Dodig said the district’s percentage of teachers separation for failing to comply continues the four-year trend below the 3 percent benchmark.

One of the current and future strategy developments include enhancements to the insurance and benefits package, as well as centralized hiring within the next six months. Dodig said the centralized hiring will take the burden off the schools, as the central office will send five, or six teachers that would be eligible to be interviewed to the schoolhouse.

“We are in the process of moving forward with guest teachers and the possibility of using a company in hiring guest teachers,” Dodig said, adding that they are also looking into hopefully expanding their cultural exchange program. “We have 20 cultural exchange teachers.”

Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier said he has been sitting down with teachers to get a climate of their conditions and what they are looking for, with the top two being pay and benefits. He said people join an organization and business as a sense of purpose and ability to make an impact.

“If we can hire 678, but not lose 900, we are fully staffed. Certainly teachers are hard to find and support professionals are hard to find. Human resources is finding them,” Bernier said. “It has to be about retention and retention is a process that starts on onboarding and continues in our school building. We should have more of a focus on what does it take to keep teachers.”

Bernier said the goal is very simple, human resources will be effective if they use it as helpful and responsive. He said their primary mission is to be helpful and responsive to drawing employees and making them effective.

“I really applaud you going and talking to teachers without administrators,” Board chair Armor Persons said. “We have to listen up and they have to speak up. That would solve a lot of problems before they decide to leave. We need to be proactive, get some groups together on a regular basis to talk.”

Board member Sam Fisher said it comes down to human element, the culture of a school, which he said they need to improve upon, so talented students come back and teach within the system.

Board member Jada Langford Fleming agreed that it is about the culture of the school, where the kids grew up, which encourages them to get into the field of education and return to the district to start their career.

“I knew there was wonderful teachers that inspired me to go into education. It starts from there. At the end of the day teachers want to feel valued and what they do matters. As a teacher, you said the word impact. You want to make impacts, especially in a career like this. Teachers want a personnel connection and want to be seen as professionals,” Langford Fleming said.