Teacher turnover figures show increase

Jeffco has new board, new climate, after growth in number of teachers leaving

Editor's note: As of press time, the Colorado Department of Education released a more detailed analysis of the turnover numbers. While Jeffco's overall turnover rate is the same, the total percentage of teachers who left their job and the district (noted as the conditional turnover rate) is 13.46 percent. For clarification purposes, 650 teachers left both their job position and the district, while 138 stayed in the district, but switched positions or were promoted to a different job category. 
This is a change in reporting methodology from years past.  

At the end of 2015, the Jefferson County School district welcomed in a completely new board of education, and a culture shift. But recent stats from the Colorado Department of Education shows, while change might be in the air, the number of teachers leaving the district is still on an upwards trend, with 789 teachers leaving the district in 2015.

“Jefferson County School District reported a 16.3 percent teacher turnover rate in 2015-16,” said Jeremy Meyer, the assistant director of communications for the department, reporting on the 2015 numbers. “While that percentage is still below the state average of 17.05 percent, Jeffco — over the past three years — has seen that gap narrow each year.”

In 2014, Jeffco had 710 teachers or 14.7 percent leave their positions, and in 2013 — prior to the former board majority’s election — that number was 10.71 percent. Those numbers include teachers that took jobs with other districts, left teaching, obtained administrative promotions, or retire.

Amy Weber, Jeffco’s director of human resources, said her office reported the district’s turnover stats in December 2015, reflecting the amount of turnover in that calendar year. The state then compiles those statistics and releases a statewide report the following spring. Weber added that the numbers are on a trend with what they’ve seen in recent years, explaining that while there’s an increase, the board and district are committed to becoming a place where people want to live out their careers.

“Jeffco, like all districts, wants to retain our effective teachers,” she said. “Back in 2005 and 2006 we had teacher turnover rates that approached 14 percent, so we certainly see turnover as a cyclical event, but our Board of Education has been clear — they want Jeffco to be a destination district.”

Turnover was a point of contention among community members, teachers, staff and board members during the 2015 elections. Following the November 2013 election of Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams to the board of education the district saw 1,499 teachers leave their positions in two years. While the departure rate grew roughly 2 percent per year, the board approved pay raises for teachers who were rated “effective” or “highly effective.”

“It is my hope that Jeffco residents recognize that 789 teachers changing jobs (in 2015), some leaving the district and some promoting, out of about 5,500 teachers, is not an unusually high turnover — parents only need to consider their own children’s classroom experiences to realize that some turnover is always needed,” said Witt, Jeffco’s former board president. “With teacher tenure laws and union-forced pay programs that reward time served in the classroom rather than student success, however, it is rarely possible to do what any effective organization does — eliminate the lowest performers and greatly reward the highest performers.”

According to the report, this year, the district has 4,921 teachers on staff. Weber said many of those who left did so for a variety of reasons, but that the district climate of conflict between the union and the board could attribute to some of it.

In November 2015, two seats were up for election, and in addition, Witt, Newkirk and Williams were recalled halfway through their terms, resulting in the turnover of Jeffco’s entire five-seat Board of Education.

For Paula Reed, a teacher at Columbine High School and member of the Jefferson County Education Association teachers’ union, the current rates are reflective of the former board’s tenure.

“We need to face the fact that Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams did a lot of damage to Jeffco. They significantly undermined teacher trust and have created a salary nightmare that will take years to repair,“ Reed said in reaction to the data release. “It is understandable that teachers may want to move to a district where they feel the salaries are more fair. In negotiations, the district and teachers’ association are working hard to try to solve this, but in the meantime, we are dealing with the aftermath. This is why people must be very informed and very thoughtful about the 2017 school board election.”

The newly elected school board, which ran together as a slate in November, has stated it’s working to rebuild the relationship with teachers and the community and to create a competitive and attractive working environment in Jeffco.

“The current board has worked hard to change the atmosphere in the boardroom and to project a much more positive attitude of appreciation for our teachers,” said Brad Rupert, one of the current board members. “We are also working in the current negotiations and budgeting activities to make Jeffco more competitive with other districts in compensation. I hope these efforts will result in substantially lower turnover rates in years to come.”

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