As school districts around the Greater Houston area are growing, competition for recruiting highly qualified teachers has stiffened.
Districts, such as Alvin, Friendswood and Pearland ISDs, have all been affected by increased teacher turnover, according to retention data from the Texas Education Agency, and have dug deep to raise teacher salaries in an effort to stifle poaching.
FISD’s teacher turnover rate increased by 2 percentage points between the 2014-15 school and 2015-16 school years, according to the latest TEA data. Meanwhile, AISD’s teacher turnover rate fell by almost 2.5 percentage points over the same time period. PISD has maintained roughly the same rate between 2013 and 2016.
Planning for growth
PISD continues to grow its student enrollment at a steady rate of about 400-500 students a year, PISD Superintendent John Kelly said.
PISD ended the 2016-17 school year with 21,539 students. Although 2017-18 enrollment numbers were not available as of press time, PISD estimated it has roughly 22,000 students this year, according to the district.
Kelly attributes the growth at PISD to the reputation of the district.
“PISD was just a few days ago rated as the second-greatest school district in the Houston area [by education analytic company Niche.com],” Kelly said.
PISD’s growth has many schools above 92 percent of student capacity, according to the district. Although a $220 million bond referendum was approved last year, no new campuses were part of the plan. Some existing campuses will undergo classroom renovations and expansions.
On the other hand, AISD is adding more campuses to keep up with growth. The 2015 bond paid for four new schools, two of which opened this school year.
“Alvin ISD has been experiencing rapid student enrollment growth for the better part of 10 years,” said Daniel Combs, assistant superintendent of professional learning and student and community engagement.
AISD had 23,650 students during the 2016-17 school year and has enrolled about 1,000 new students annually.
According to Combs, the majority of the district’s growth is taking place along the Hwy. 288 corridor.
“This has been our fastest-growing area [in AISD] for a number of years,” Combs said.
While PISD and AISD are dealing with consistent growth, Friendswood’s ISD’s growth has been relatively stagnant for the past few years. The district finished out the 2016-17 school year with 6,046 students.
“The other districts are having to deal with large amounts of [enrollment] growth,” FISD Superintendent Thad Roher said. “The growth isn’t present [in FISD].”
Boosting pay and retention
With all three districts in a different place in terms of growth, each district has used different tactics in order to recruit and retain teachers to avoid poaching.
PISD had a turnover rate of 13.6 percent for the 2015-16 school year, according to the latest TEA data.
One of the greatest challenges for PISD is maintaining a competitive salary and benefits package to attract new educators and retain existing ones.
The base teacher salary for an educator with a bachelor’s degree and no prior teaching experience was $53,000 for the 2017-18 school year. Although salaries are competitive, health insurance benefit packages have eroded with the skyrocketing cost of health care.
“About 60 percent of our employees are on health insurance, and 40 percent are not,” Kelly said. “Although we would like to do more for health insurance, it benefits more people to put that into salaries. Insurance rates are skyrocketing,”
AISD has been able to stay competitive with both salaries and benefits, Combs said. Although AISD’s teacher turnover rate climbed to a high of 15.2 percent during the 2014-15 school year, nearing the state average of 16.6 percent over the same time, it has trickled back down to 12.8 percent for the 2015-16 school year, according to TEA data.
The starting salary at AISD for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no prior teaching experience is $53,200.
“Alvin ISD is mindful that as new school facilities are constructed, it is more critical to ensure students have top-quality teachers that are committed to the success of each child they serve,” Combs said.
In recent years, FISD has struggled with retention rates. The starting salary for a FISD teacher with no prior experience and a bachelor’s degree was $52,750 for the 2017-18 school year, which is lower but comparable to neighboring districts. The district has made huge strides in raising its base salary for teachers. As early as the 2014-15 school year, FISD’s base salary was $47,000, which was thousands of dollars behind nearby districts at the time, according to FISD officials.
FISD’s teacher retention rate was just above 12 percent during the
2015-16 school year. In 2014-15, the teacher retention rate was just under
9 percent, according to TEA data.
“We really reconfigured our salary structure,” said Connie Morgenroth, assistant superintendent of business and operations. “We have really strived to maintain being competitive with [surrounding districts].”
Recruitment and funding woes
FISD’s stagnant growth has caused some difficult financial decisions that, ultimately, affect teacher retention and recruitment, Roher said.
“The only way you get new money is the number of students increasing,” Roher said. “In terms of teacher retention, when you don’t have a growing student population, then you have a challenge with how do we pay more money when the districts around you are growing.”
FISD began raising teacher salaries in the 2015-16 school year. In 2016, FISD voters approved a tax ratification election to increase the district’s maintenance and operation tax rate by 9 cents, which allowed for salary increases for teachers, Roher said.
“If our TRE had failed, ... we would not have been able to give salary increases without [dipping into] the fund balance,” Morgenroth said.
This legislative session, state lawmakers approved a school funding bill that stripped $1.5 billion of new funding and removed reforms to the state’s outdated funding formula, which is used to allocate state dollars to local school districts.
“We were very disappointed with the Texas Senate,” Kelly said. “Basically, it provides no new help.”
While AISD also hoped to receive more state funding, the district has used more local dollars to remain competitive in the tight market.
“The state’s current school funding system increasingly shifts the burden of school finance from the state level to the local community,” Combs said.
Funding from the 2017 Texas Legislature was less than anticipated.
“We are out of magic tricks, really,” Roher said. “We will have to make some really hard decisions if things don’t change in this next biennium.”