In My Opinion: Why is Board mum on teacher attrition?

By Ragan Phillips

The agenda for the Hanover County School Board meetings normally includes this provision as  item number two:

“CLOSED MEETING: Code of Virginia, Section 2.2-3711 (A) (1) Personnel; Review Recommendations of the Superintendent for Resignations, Appointments, Transfers, Assignments, Promotions, Terminations, Salary Adjustments and Leaves for Teachers and Other Employees; Superintendent’s Performance Goals; Section 2.2-3711 (A) (2) Student Disciplinary Matters.”

As is proper the School Board deals with confidential and sensitive personnel matters in closed session. It would be inappropriate for these matters to be presented in a public forum. But there are some issues with the School Board’s apparent use of this legislative provision.

Let’s examine some facts about the departure in 2013 of teachers and staff from the Hanover school system. The 2013 rate of teacher attrition from the Hanover school system is cause for concern. An explanation by the School Board to parents and the public is in order. But as of this writing the Board has been silent on the matter.

The basis for my analysis, the only relevant data available to the public, is found in the “School Notes” for each Board meeting as published on the school’s web site. Data is based on the first six months of the calendar year 2013. This analysis compares departures during the first six months of 2013 with the average departures for the same period of six months in the three prior years, 2010, 2011, and 2012. A breakout between resignations and retirements is not provided in these Board Notes.

Here are the facts:

• Total departures (all employees) in the first six months of 2013 are up 28 percent over the average of the three prior years.

• Classroom teacher departures (all grades) are up 39 percent from the average for the three prior years. Eighty-two teachers have departed in the first six months.

• High School classroom teacher departures are up 60 percent from the average for the three prior years. Thirty-two high school teachers have departed in the first six months.

Turnover is natural and will almost always occur in any organization. In a large corporation a 5-10 percent turnover is expected and, in its fashion, serves to eliminate non-performers. But if an unusual number of classroom teachers are leaving, under the current set of circumstances in Hanover County (the failure of the Board of Supervisors to provide funding for classroom teachers, apparently no one with authority listening to real concerns about extra teaching hours and greater student-teacher classroom ratios, seeing school employees’ last pay raise some five years ago, while inflation has taken away 10 percent of the purchasing  power of their take-home pay, etc.) one would expect those departing to be among the highest performers in the system.

It is possible this data for our school system is just a statistical anomaly. Or, perhaps our better economy led to teachers leaving for better paying jobs. Or, perhaps there is a larger than usual group of retirements. Or, maybe, teachers departed because of a perceived lack of respect from County officials and that long term freeze on wages.

I certainly do not have the answers. I only have the questions. Why, you may ask?

The School Board has failed to publicly address this issue. The Board even had a formal request from two parents to place the topic on the June 2013 agenda. To the best of my knowledge this request was ignored. Perhaps the Board has decided that the closed session authority referenced at the beginning of this article precludes the Board from any public discussion of teacher departures. If this is the reason the Board has been silent on this matter that reason for silence should be explained to the public. I would prefer not to think that the Board has been influenced into silence by “higher authority.”

But, in my opinion, the Board could at least provide parents and the public with full disclosure as to what has caused this sharp rise in departures. We all surely realize the departure of experienced classroom teachers does represent a serious, long-term loss to the quality and performance of our school system.

I ask you to consider the facts above. If this is a reason for your concern about the future of Hanover public schools please voice that concern to the School Board. (Email addresses for Board members may be found on the Hanover County Public School web site.)

You do not, of course, have to agree with my arguments. But if you are concerned about education in Hanover County, whatever position you take…you can be a “voice.”

About the Writer:

Ragan Phillips is is a retired business executive who lives with his wife in Ashland, Virginia. They have three grandsons who are products of the Hanover County public school system. Mr. Phillips welcomes comment and criticism of his articles and can be reached at rtphil504@gmail.com.

 

Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:20 am