As school districts grapple with the effects of a teacher shortage across Texas, Cy-Fair ISD is 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 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, teacher turnover costs school districts $235 million annually, the report stated.
In CFISD, officials are working to maintain the district’s student-to-teacher ratios despite the statewide setback.
Deborah Stewart, CFISD’s associate superintendent for human resources and student services, said the teacher turnover rate within the district was about 12 percent last year, which is lower than the statewide average of 16 percent.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas was federally recognized for teacher shortages in several science, technology, engineering, math and bilingual courses for the
2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. These courses include: English as a second language; career and technical education; computer science; mathematics; science and special education on the elementary and secondary levels.
Chairita Franklin, CFISD’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said the district has experienced increased vacancies in those areas.
“It’s the same thing [the DOE is] saying,” she said. “When you have less people in the pipeline, you’ll see a shortage. [School districts] are all competing for the same quality educators.”
Franklin said because the Texas Education Agency requires teachers to be certified, most districts will struggle to fill every vacancy. As one of the largest districts in the state, CFISD faces significant staffing challenges.
Increased pressure associated with tying job performance to standardized testing scores has also pushed teachers out of the industry, according to the AEE report.
This bill was intended to alleviate pressure from educators across the state as well as within CFISD. According to Franklin, however, the district has not found evidence that standardized testing has significantly affected staffing numbers in Cy-Fair.
“CFISD has not captured data that would speak to teachers leaving the profession due to increased pressure placed on them because of standardized testing,” she said.
In addition to STEM hiring challenges and standardized testing pressure, Texas public schools shouldered a $5.3 billion cut to education in the 2011 legislative session, which resulted in districts statewide cutting teaching positions.
Franklin said CFISD cut many support staff positions following the budget cuts, which put more responsibility on teachers. However, Stewart said the district has reinstated much of the support staff in recent years.
“I believe that we’re in a pretty healthy position right now,” she said. “Our teachers have a lot of support, and staff development is ongoing.”
Gary Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said thousands of new students enroll in Texas public schools each year, requiring districts to hire thousands of teachers across the state.
“Every year when 80,000 new kids enter the [Texas public education] system, that creates thousands of jobs that need to be filled just to educate those 80,000,” Godsey said. “That’s about the size of a Fort Worth school district coming on board every single year in Texas.”
Since the 2010-11 academic year, CFISD has added nearly 9,000 students, according to the Population & Survey Analysts demographics firm.
To keep up with student enrollment, districts in the region are boosting salaries and looking beyond Texas for teachers. Recruiting teachers from out of state is a growing trend throughout the state. The number of out-of-state teachers receiving Texas certification increased from 2,370 teachers in 2011-12 to 3,875 in 2014-15, according to the TEA.
About 800 new teachers joined CFISD this year, many coming from out of state.
“We look at states where there are more teachers than demand,” Franklin said. “Michigan is one example where we recruit out of state to address our teacher shortage.”
Stewart said the recruitment process costs CFISD about $20,000 annually. The district hosts about 2,000 prospective employees at a job fair every spring to fill both teaching and ancillary positions, such as custodians and food service workers, to keep up with increased student enrollment.
Eight years ago, CFISD also launched a program called Ready, Set, Teach! to place high schoolers in education internships to garner an early interest in the profession. Stewart said many CFISD graduates return to teach in the district years later.
Partnerships with schools such as the University of Houston Downtown and Sam Houston State University also recruit new graduates and help classroom paraprofessionals attain teacher certification.
Stewart and Franklin agreed their main recruitment strategy is to offer competitive salaries. According to a report from the Texas Association of School Boards, the average starting annual salary for teachers at Texas schools with more than 10,000 students in 2015-16 was $47,804—8.8 percent lower than CFISD’s starting salary this year.
During the budget planning process every year, CFISD gathers information about salaries in neighboring districts and aims to start at or above those numbers, officials said. Just last year, the district increased the average annual teacher salary by 2.8 percent at the cost of roughly $8.7 million.
“Our board has made it a standard to at least lead our neighboring districts in first-year teacher salaries to entice teachers to Cy-Fair,” Franklin said. “It comes down to being able to fill a vacancy.”