What started as an unusual school year, thanks to COVID-19, continues to be so for many school districts, where administrators are working to try to fill an unusually high number of positions. Prior to Monday night’s recommendations, Sulphur Springs ISD‘s hiring process was still on track, with typically about 60 or so changes annually for the new school year. This July, however, blew that out of the water; SSISD administrators submitted for trustees’ approval Monday 78 recommendations for personnel changes.
Superintendent Michael Lamb noted that the 23 resignations, 42 new hires and 13 inter-district changes are due in large part to the pandemic. One way that COVID-19 has impacted districts is providing additional funding to employ additional staff teachers and personnel to give students extra help needed to ensure they catch up on skills they may not have fully attained due to the closing of schools after spring break 2020, then some having to be out due to exposure or illness, and in some cases students enrolling in online classes instead of in-person classes on campus.
Sulphur Springs ISD, for instance, will be using some of the federal funding awarded to the district to create four additional math positions to help support elementary math. Other school districts are implementing similar measures as well. That, in some cases, means four of the districts top math teachers took those positions, which created openings for their former positions, Lamb explained.
That may mean another teacher is shifted from one position, campus or grade level to better fit their abilities and district needs. In some instances, it means teachers may change school districts entirely to accept a higher or better paying position.
In some instances school members have resigned to move when a spouse relocates for work. A few employees driving in from other cities have found employment closer to home, leaving openings in Sulphur Springs ISD or the district where they worked earlier this year.
“All of us are dealing with an influx of funds from the federal government. The money and those additional positions created a lot of openings, so there’s more movement than we’ve had before,” Lamb said. “Just about every school in our area is doing it, creating more openings when they take some of ours.”
Region 8 Education Service Center also benefitted from some of the federal funds available to educational establishments, so the ESC too has added 4-6 positions this year, often recruiting from schools such as SSISD. For instance, an educator at Como-Pickton might get hired at Region 8 ESC for a position a SSISD employee interviewed for. That would create an opening at CPCISD, where administrators might try to recruit the SSISD employee who came in second for the ESC job. If the SSISD employee is hired at CPCISD, that’d in turn create a snowball effect for SSISD, where the district is tasked with filling that educator’s position, and so forth.
“In a lot of ways, it’s a compliment to our district that when other schools have openings, they look here to try to take ours. We lost two technology people, two really good technology people,” Lamb noted.
Add to the fact that there was already a teacher shortage in Texas prior to COVID-19, then add 3-4 new created positions per school, and the shortage is now even greater, Lamb noted.
The number of students graduating high school with an interest in becoming teachers has been significantly smaller in recent years than in some years past, and the number completing college and attaining their teaching certification has been even smaller than that. That put education in world of hurt, searching trying to find highly qualified candidates to fill positions over the past several years.
Lamb said too often in the past few years, teaching has been perceived by potential college students as too low paying a profession, with too few tangible rewards, and sometimes met with disrespect. That stigma meant fewer teachers to fill positions. House Bill 3 in the Legislative session that ended 2 years ago made strides to toward improving that, with funding for raises and improvement to different programs. and those changes were set to go into effect when COVID-19 struck the country during spring break 2020.
“It was encouraging, and felt like we were getting on the right track when COVID happened House Bill 3 was a good step, but we did not really get to reap the benefits of what it did,” Lamb said.
Since COVID, some perceptions among parents and educators have changes. Some parents are glad to have their students back on campus for in-person classes taught by educators certified in their subject areas. Teachers are getting some well deserved respect. Parents are expressing more appreciation for the school system.
Unfortunately, even if new students are signing up to train to become teachers, there’s still not that many coming out of colleges. There’s still a gap from the low enrollment in the past couple of years, through the past enrollment period. Even with more interest in education, it’s still going to take a couple of years to catch up.
The positions being added this year at schools has only contributed to the teachers shortage, meaning even fewer are available, and those highly qualified are often subject to poaching from other schools.
Add to that teachers who have decided to retire or get out of teaching entirely, after the challenges of a rough year, due to the many unique changes, requirements and adjustments made in education because of COVID-19, as stipulated and recommended by Texas Education Agency, the Department of Education, the Centers for Disease Control and UIL. Then, there are a few who have chosen to do something else entirely.
“Some who have taught for all of these years are saying they are done. They’ve been thinking of retirement and trying to hang on, have worked because they love it, but now find it an easy time to bow out. I read all the resignation letters. I look at all those types of things,” Lamb said. “I wouldn’t blame any if they did, or for that matter those who resign to take a higher paying or higher ranking position somewhere else. Some are moving with family. Some just resigned. Business is hard right now, because of COVID. I have two employees who are staying home to help their spouses run their business from home. It’s a tough time in our society.”
In addition to approving 78 personnel recommendations, SSISD trustees also took another step to help with retention and recruitment efforts. They approved Assistant Superintendent Josh William’s recommendation to use $750,000 in ESSER III funding to give a one-time $1,000 stipend to all regular full-time and part-time employees during the 2021-2022 school year.
“The stipend is a retention stipend for employees who have served before the 2021-22 school year and a recruitment stipend for those who are new to the district. To be eligible for the stipend, an SSISD employee must be employed as of the date of payment . Employees leaving the district before the payment date or those hired after the date will not be eligible to receive the stipend,” Williams proposed.
Of course, payment of the stipend will depend on Texas Education Agency approving the ESSER III funding plan for that purpose and SSISD receiving it. If approved, administrators intend to propose the same stipend for 2022 and 2023, rewarding those who remain with the district for the next 2-3 years.