While school districts grapple with the effects of a statewide teacher shortage, Montgomery, Willis and Conroe ISDs are keeping positions filled by increasing teacher salaries and prioritizing retention.
Nationally, 500,000 teachers exit the industry each year, collectively costing school districts as much as $2 billion annually in recruiting and training teacher replacements, according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, a national education policy and advocacy organization. In Texas alone, the teacher turnover costs school districts $235 million annually, the report stated.
MISD, CISD and WISD lost 9.3 percent, 13.1 percent and 17.9 percent of their teachers, respectively, between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years, according to the Texas Education Agency’s most recent data.
Although district officials downplayed the effects of the statewide shortage in local schools, the three school districts are increasing salaries and enhancing workplace environments to remain competitive, avoid turnover and keep pace with enrollment growth.
“We always see turnover—normally 11 to 13 percent—for varying reasons,” said Robert Whitman, WISD assistant superintendent of student and human resources.
Although MISD has yet to see a significant effect from the statewide trend, the shortage has caused the district to focus on attracting and retaining teachers, said Sonja Lopez, MISD assistant superintendent of human resources.
“The statewide teacher shortage continues to make recruiting, training and retention a priority,” Lopez said. “We do our best to stay competitive in pay, quality of work life, professional development opportunities and community partnerships.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas was federally recognized for teacher shortages in several subject areas for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. These include: English as a second language, career and technical education, computer science, mathematics, science and special education on the elementary and secondary levels.
“These content areas are in demand across the nation as there are fewer candidates graduating from universities,” said Kathy Sharples, CISD director of human resources.
Lopez said as Montgomery County grows so does competition among nearby districts for quality teachers.
“We are just surrounded by great educators,” Lopez said. “The whole profession is represented really well in Montgomery County. That is what makes it hard to hire good teachers.”
Since the 2010-11 academic year, CISD has added 7,069 students, according to the Population and Survey Analysts demographics firm. Meanwhile, MISD has added 1,274 students and WISD has added 671 students in the last five years.
To address the growth, CISD added 122 new teaching positions for 2016-17.
“With an enrollment growth of approximately 1,500 students per year, we add the teachers and support staff as necessary to meet the needs of our learners,” Sharples said.
MISD and WISD added 13 and eight classroom-related positions, respectively, for 2016-17. Lopez said MISD had about 64 new teachers start in 2016-17, while Whitman said 85 new teachers started at WISD this year.
Although new teachers are coming on board, Sharples said relocation and retirement challenge teacher retention.
“Our analysis of teacher retention shows that relocation is one of the top reasons for leaving CISD,” Sharples said.
To address demand for new teachers, school districts are boosting salaries to remain competitive and are looking beyond Texas for teachers.
Recruiting teachers from out of state is a growing trend throughout Texas. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of out-of-state teachers receiving Texas certification increased from 2,370 teachers to 3,875 teachers, according to the TEA.
However, Whitman said WISD spends its resources recruiting close to home.
“Here at [WISD] we are not going overboard as far as going all over the state to try to find [candidates],” Whitman said.
Lopez said MISD representatives attend college fairs as well as the district’s own job fair throughout the year to recruit teachers. Still, Lopez said the majority of the district’s teachers come from within Texas.
Although local districts are not spending significant funds on out-of-state recruitment efforts, they continue to increase salaries to stay competitive with other districts.
In WISD, the starting salary for a teacher has grown from $44,000 to $46,000 this year. A first-year teacher at MISD will receive $48,000 this year, compared with $47,000 last year.
While local school districts offer higher starting salaries than the state average for districts of comparable sizes, WISD and MISD also increased salaries for returning teachers by 5 and 3 percent, respectively, for the 2016-17 school year.
CISD, a district nearly five times as large as Willis and Montgomery ISDs, offers first-year teachers $51,500 in FY 2016-17, compared with $51,000 last fiscal year. The average starting annual salary for a teacher in Texas schools with more than 10,000 students in FY 2015-16 was $47,804, according to TASB. CISD increased teacher salaries overall by about 3 percent for FY 2016-17.
“We have to stay competitive with the surrounding districts and try to make sure that we can draw a good pool of candidates as well,” Whitman said.
He said WISD’s first-year teacher salary has increased by about $7,000 in four years.
The districts are also increasing supplemental income and enhancing the workplace environment to improve retention.
Whitman said WISD is one of the few districts in Texas to offer a self-funded insurance plan and a district wellness center, which he said increase teachers’ take-home pay. CISD also provides a health and wellness center.
“That’s a huge tool both in retaining and bringing in teacher candidates,” she said.