The Lee County School District is working to implement changes that will allow it to hire and retain employees as “Big Resignation” continues to make both difficult.
The Lee County School Board heard this week about changes district staff are considering to offset staffing issues that are affecting the entire country.
Executive Director of Human Resources Rob Dodig told the elected council that a national survey was conducted in October 2021 regarding K-12 hiring issues on Education Week. In October, conditions were “very severe,” Where “severe,” up to 40% of respondents said they were understaffed at their site.
The survey found that 77% of respondents said they had difficulty hiring enough substitute teachers, 68% said they had difficulty hiring bus drivers and 55% said they had difficulty. to hire paraprofessionals.
“Our stats basically reflect that,” said Dodig.
A follow-up survey a month later, in November 2021, found shortages had worsened significantly, with 52% saying hiring conditions were “very severe,” Where “severe.”
“We know that in November, Omicron came into our lives. We saw a significant spike in October, November and December regarding vacancies,” said Dodig.
The Division of Human Resources project coordinator, Dr. Shellie Halstead, said district staff had categorized vacancies into two groups – long-term vacancies that ended and short-term vacancies that lasted between a and 45 days. She said in fiscal year 2020, the district had very low turnover rates — 20% for teaching staff and 23% for non-teachers.
This jumped to 29% at the end of 2021.
The district has seen an increase in the number of layoffs of non-teaching staff, primarily workers leaving the district for whatever reason.
“We are losing more non-teaching staff now than in the past,” Halstead said.
Dodig said there were 161 more people ending their non-teaching roles than at the same time last year. These positions include paraprofessionals, bus drivers, food service and caretakers.
According to a table presented, 336 people terminated in fiscal year 2020, 343 in fiscal year 2021 and 504 in fiscal year 504.
The two main reasons for termination are personal reasons and retirement. In fiscal year 2021, 56% declared personal and 14.7% retired. In fiscal year 2022, 67.5% provided a personal reason, while 7.5% said they were retiring.
Dodig also pointed to parole, which rose to 5.1% from 2.5% in fiscal year 2022.
“I think we have to focus on that because it’s preventable,” he said, adding that those people might need more training, or something else that they don’t share with the district, but the district could provide.
For non-teaching staff, again, the top two reasons were personal, 64.9%, and retirement, 12.6%. Parole increased again, from 2.3% in fiscal year 2021 to 5.3% in fiscal year 2022.
Board member Betsy Vaughn said the bottom line is that teachers are not only underpaid, but not respected, which sometimes comes from a principal who may not respect the expertise that a teacher may have.
“I am absolutely certain that is what it is. COVID is the icing on the cake, the icing on the cake,” she said. “Nowhere here is that addressed. It’s not possible because it’s not black and white data. I know we’re data-driven, but frankly, I think back to my own experience. All this indicates that I love this job, but I can’t take it anymore. I finished.”
To gather additional information about what is happening at school sites, the district released a School Absence Frequency Survey, which was conducted with principals. Dodig said it received 55 survey responses. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they had a teacher out every day, while 15% said a teacher was out three to four times a week.
“Fifty-six percent of our schools are short of a teacher every day. Twenty-three percent of schools are short of at least one paraprofessional,” said Halstead.
The district broke it down further, asking to rate how difficult it was to fill short-term vacancies on their site. The top three positions with coverage challenges were paraprofessionals, teachers, and caretakers.
“Paraprofessionals are a very low paying position and we have no substitutes for these paraprofessionals,” said Dodig. “That’s the hardest area to cover.”
The survey also asked those who indicated they were leaving when they expected it to happen, at the end of the year or within the next two years. The top three reasons for those considering ending their employment with the District this year and within the next one to two years were retirement, inadequate salary/performance pay, and general working conditions.
Dodig said they can control those reasons and therefore the impact it has on the district.
In an effort to try to triangulate the problem, the district publishes an annual educational survey that asks “if a friend asked me, I would recommend him to accept a job in my current school or department”, which is a question to mark their satisfaction.
Of 3,409 respondents, 35% said they strongly agreed and 40% said they agreed to FY2020. In FY21, of 3,657 who responded, 43% said they strongly agreed and 38% agreed.
“We saw an increase in strong agreement. For me, it’s interesting to know how difficult the last year was,” said Halstead.
Dodig said the 25% who showed they were dissatisfied had dropped to 19% in 2021, which he said is still too high.
“If all these people left, it’s a difficult situation to manage,” he said.
Last year, the district launched a non-instructional survey, which was simplified and offered in English and Spanish. The survey found that 33% only see themselves working in the district for zero to four years, which Dodig says is significant.
Reinventing the workplace
The meeting also touched on reimagining the workplace, which Dodig believes could keep K-12 education relevant in the region and across the country.
“We’re trying, we’re going to try to reverse some of the trends that you’ve seen in all of this data,” he said.
Ongoing retention efforts include a retention bonus; negotiation; expanded mental health wellness initiatives; district office staff support to schools; residence interviews/exit interviews and professional development.
Dodig said they’re looking for a more robust way to conduct exit interviews, like calling people on the phone, because if they don’t know for sure why people are leaving the district, it’s hard to resolve the issue.
When recruiting new teachers, salary and benefits were the two main contenders, which has now moved on to job flexibility, mental health day, family leave and remote work. With 4,363 graduating from Florida teaching colleges, Dodig said they need to focus on career changes and those who want to teach to fill the gap.
Proposed retention efforts include exploring flexible schedules; remuneration and benefits for visiting teachers; benefits that promote work-life balance, such as childcare; additional career paths; develop diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives; foster employee engagement and increase support for leaders.
“We have to talk to our staff, involve them. It is important that all of your staff know that you care about them and are thinking of them,” said Dodig.
Dodig said they could also offer a different schedule for high schools, which could help retain staff. Another possibility is to have a day without meetings, possibly once a month.
“We are exploring flexible hours. A proposed policy on remote work for people in this building, 12-month-old employees,” he said of the district office.
Other options could include job sharing and sponsoring teachers from other countries through a Visa program.
Superintendent Dr Ken Savage said it was about addressing some of the fundamentals, which actually create some of their supply and demand issues.
“Quite simply, the way we schedule students in schools creates the number of vacancies we have,” he said, adding that if they changed schedules, it could “significantly change the number of teachers we need in various fields and levels. This will require us to look at some of the instruction pieces and system level issues that we need to look at. We are deeply underway for all planning for next year. If we were to make adjustments, (it would) improve the working conditions considerably.
A big issue this year is the need for more bus drivers. He said Lee County has the challenge of its choice system, which gives parents a large number of schools to choose from. For example, in the E2 sub-zone, there are 17 elementary schools to choose from.
“That adds to the problem we have. Knowing how many schools families have to miss strictly because a bus can’t pick them up. This also has an impact on the net result. . . make it better for people by addressing the root issues,” said Savage.