How do you keep teachers in Lawrence?
Voters got a chance to hear Monday night how the eight school board candidates think Lawrence should compete for teachers in coming years.
Some said making salaries competitive was the answer.
But others offered a number of nonsalary ideas, including lowering class sizes and improving facilities, to keep teachers from looking for greener pastures.
The candidates, who are vying for four seats on the board in the April 3 election, spoke at a forum sponsored by the Voter Education Coalition at Lawrence Public Library. About 50 people attended.
Victor Sisk, a retired state schools activities administrator and former Lawrence High School music teacher, said there's a drain on teachers in Lawrence because of a lack of competitive salaries for experienced educators.
"There is a need to increase teacher longevity with competitive salaries and a continued, but improved, retirement benefit package," Sisk wrote in a statement read by Stan Roth, a retired teacher. Roth explained Sisk could not attend because he was on a trip.
Robert Rauktis, a retired physician, said the best way to retain teachers in Lawrence is to stress the community's assets.
"I just don't think you can get in an arms race, salarywise, with Johnson County," Rauktis said.
Rauktis said he would emphasize improving the salaries of midcareer teachers.
"I'd hate to say let some of the younger people flounder, but they're good at that," said Rauktis.
Michael Pomes, an environmental scientist for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the loss of teachers has to be stopped.
Pomes said he would work to ensure more funding for salaries.
He also said he was concerned about how much teachers have to pay in out-of-pocket costs to provide classroom supplies for their students.
"More must be done for teachers on the lower end of the pay scale," Pomes said.
Scott Morgan, a local publisher who served on the school board from 1999 through 2003, said salaries play a big role in retaining teachers.
"But it's only part of the solution to recruiting and retaining the teachers we want and we need," Morgan said.
He said the state determines much of the revenue the district has.
"You've got to focus on things other than just money," Morgan said. "You've got to focus on the benefits, the facilities and the class size."
Incumbent Rich Minder said he was committed to increasing teacher salaries.
But Minder also said he supports looking at a wider range of issues, such as providing more planning time for elementary teachers.
"There are issues of transforming our retirement system into a sustainable retirement system," Minder said.
Marlene Merrill, a retired Lawrence schools administrator who now works for the Kansas City, Kan., school district, cited a need to increase salaries for teachers, paraeducators and school secretarial staff.
Merrill said that compared with the Kansas City school district, "Lawrence is greatly underfunded."
Merrill also called for reducing class size and providing more teaching resources in the classroom.
The district also needs to start the recruitment process earlier, she said.
Michael Machell, a human resources manager, said the district has a lot to offer and needs to market the community to teachers.
Machell said the district needs to look at opportunities for career growth for teachers.
He also suggested comparing salaries with nearby districts and doing exit interviews with teachers who are leaving to find out why.
"It may not be totally salary-related," he said. The district should also follow up on teachers who turned down jobs to see what they were offered elsewhere.
Mary Loveland, who served for 16 years on the school board until being voted off in 2003, said the board always analyzes the budget each year to give teachers the highest salaries possible.
"Of course, it isn't all about salaries," Loveland said.
The benefit package, mentoring programs and professional development also are important, she said
Loveland agreed that it would be important to have exit interviews on why teachers leave the district.