Lawrence district report: 205 teachers resigned or retired last school year, 31 positions remain unfilled

photo by: Lawrence school district screenshot

The Lawrence school board meets at district offices as part of its meeting on Sept. 26, 2022. Board members Kay Emerson and Carole Cadue-Blackwood participated virtually.

More than 200 teachers resigned or retired from the Lawrence school district last school year, with major reasons cited in exit surveys including pay, workload and district leadership.

As part of its meeting Monday, the Lawrence school board received a report on the number of classified and certified resignations, vacancies and current staffing levels, as well as information from exit surveys from teachers and other certified staff. District administrators emphasized the impact of the strong national labor market, which they said continued to create challenges for retention and recruitment.

“All of us districts are competing for the same small pool of candidates,” said Kaitlin Shulman, recruitment and retention facilitator for the district.

Last school year, 205 teachers resigned or retired from the district, compared to 127 in the 2020-2021 school year, according to the report. The district told the Journal-World that 93 teachers and other certified staff resigned or retired in the 2019-2020 school year, meaning that between the 2019-2020 and the 2021-2022 school year, resignations and retirements more than doubled. However, the 205 resignations and retirements included teachers who resigned rather than accept a transfer to a different position following budget reductions last school year. The school board cut 72 teaching positions as part of $6.4 million in budget reductions, and the district previously said all those teachers were offered to transfer to other open positions as part of that process.

There are currently 31 open positions for teachers and other certified staff, with an additional 11 certified positions being filled with long-term substitutes. The district has 923 certified staff members, meaning the 42 open or sub-filled positions represent a vacancy rate of about 4.4%.

Of the 205 resignations and retirements, the district received exit surveys from 91 teachers and other certified staff members. The survey asked two questions about why teachers were leaving, one more general and one district specific. Regarding the general reasons respondents gave for leaving their position, the major reasons were “competitive salary within the field of education,” work to life balance, relocation and retirement. The Lawrence Education Association, which represents teachers and other certified staff, has been pushing for raises. The board and LEA approved a contract for this school year that included $862,616 to increase the overall salary schedule matrix, or a 1.8% increase, and $186,000 toward “horizontal movement” for increased education. LEA representatives have said district raises are not keeping up with inflation or remaining competitive with some nearby districts.

Of the 91 exit survey respondents, 51, or about 56%, indicated they had accepted another position within education. Shulman said for context, the Lawrence district hired 62 teachers from other school districts. Of those leaving for another district, respondents provided answers about what the new position offered that the Lawrence district did not, which included higher salary and opportunity; smaller class size; more stable leadership; and more support staff/more resources. Of the remaining exit survey respondents, 18 were still considering options, 18 retiring, 16 had accepted a position outside of education, six were leaving to stay at home or for other family reasons, four were returning to school in the education field, and one was returning to school outside the education field.

Executive Director of Human Resources Kristen Ryan said the district was not alone in its challenges, and that state and other data indicates that two-thirds of the districts in Kansas are experiencing teacher shortages and that teacher vacancies increased by 62% between the fall of 2020 and the fall of 2021.

School board President Shannon Kimball said she didn’t believe the Lawrence district’s data was indicating there was anything unique about the district, and that to make major improvements to pay and class sizes, it would take more state funding.

“Districts across the state, districts across the country are struggling with all of these same issues,” Kimball said. “I know that you all are working as hard as you can to try to find other ways to try to address these problems, but at the end of the day, it’s going to take more dollars.”

Regarding the district-specific reasons respondents gave for leaving their position, the major reasons respondents cited for leaving were overall district support, overall professional workload, and district administrative leadership. When respondents were asked to identify any district policies, procedures or other obstacles that made their job more difficult, major themes included over testing, increases in class sizes, large special education caseloads, and “lack of training with ever changing new curriculum.” In a question where respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with specific aspects of the district, they indicated they were very dissatisfied with “educator-administration collaboration in meetings, processes, and decision-making” as well as with their rate of pay or salary.

Ryan said the district took some immediate steps in response to the exit survey data to create a more positive and supportive work environment. Those included recognition efforts for teachers, regular building visits from administrators, and “stay” interviews to identify potential areas for improvements from teachers who say they are interested in staying with the district.

The board also received more details about the high number of classified staff vacancies. According to the report, there are 114 open classified staff positions, which include paraeducators, food service workers and custodians. The district currently has 562 classified staff members, meaning the 114 open positions represent a vacancy rate of about 17%. Nationally the vacancy rate, also known as the job openings rate, was 6.9% for the month of July, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

As the Journal-World reported last week, the union representing the district’s classified employees said the district needed to take immediate action to address understaffing that is directly affecting students. The Personnel Association of Lawrence-Communication Workers of America, the union representing classified staff, have pushed for wage increases, but the agreed-upon contract fell far short of the union’s goal of bringing minimum pay to $15 an hour. The board and PAL-CWA approved a contract that included a 4.95% increase in funding for the classified salary pool, increasing base pay to $9.70 per hour.

Board member Kelly Jones asked if classified staff were also provided exit surveys, and Shulman said those responses would be presented at a future meeting.


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