District struggles to keep teachers

MVWSD hiring spree goes deep into September to fill empty teacher positions

The on-going teacher shortage afflicting schools all over the state has been a serious challenge for the Mountain View Whisman School District. The district's hiring staff has had to pull off a Herculean effort just to get a teacher in every classroom after losing more than 50 faculty members.

During the first month of school, the district has been employing long-term substitutes, retired teachers and teachers with intern credentials, as well as recruiting new staff from as far away as Santa Rosa.

"This has been the most difficult year for a long time," said Associate Superintendent Karen Robinson, who has headed efforts to hire new teachers. Other school district administrators have called this year one of the most challenging yet, Robinson said.

But the problem is two-fold for the Mountain View Whisman School District. The district has had to compete for a dwindling pool of job-seeking teachers, particularly special education teachers, while dealing with a worsening teacher retention problem.

Keeping teachers on staff has been an issue for the district, as it lost roughly 40 teachers each year in previous years. But this year the school district had to fill 55 teaching positions, amounting to roughly 1 in every 5 teachers in the district.

Jonathan Pharazyn, president of the Mountain View Educators Association, said it's been an on-going challenge for the district, which has had to hire 170 new teachers in the last four years. The high rate of turnover means the district has to sink money into retraining teachers, he said.

Pharazyn said many of the those leaving the district are veteran teachers who have been with the district for over 10 years. Add the chronic issue of teacher retention to the statewide teacher shortage, and the district has a serious problem.

"The district is in a very difficult situation, including external factors beyond the district's control," Pharazyn said.

Relatively low salaries remain the top issue for teachers quitting, Pharazyn said. The current teacher salaries, particularly on the low-end of the pay scale, make it challenging to live in an area where the cost of living is so high. He said the teachers who are quitting aren't necessarily dissatisfied with the district, but the salaries are just not enough to compensate for the high cost of local rent or the long commutes from more affordable communities.

Last year teachers received a 5 percent salary increase after a month of protests over what the teachers' union called a meager 3.25 percent "cost of living" bump proposed by former Superintendent Craig Goldman. This year teachers got another 4 percent boost to salaries, following relatively smooth negotiations with then-Interim Superintendent Kevin Skelly.

But the pay increases may not be the right route to fix the problem. Even though Skelly told the Voice in June that these substantial increases in salaries are not sustainable year-to-year, teacher retention worsened this year.

Pharazyn said the school board and the district need to figure out a "multifaceted game plan" to attract and keep teachers, and suggested the district start considering partnerships with the city of Mountain View and local tech giants like Google to find a solution. He said it could be something like more below market rate housing developments for teachers.

"That takes a will and a desire to make that happen, and so far I haven't seen that from the district leadership," Pharazyn said.

Positions almost filled

As of last week, the district only needed to hire a few more teachers to be fully staffed for the school year, which began on Aug. 17. While Robinson reported to the board at the Aug. 20 meeting that every classroom had a teacher, there was a number of substitutes holding down the fort.

At Huff Elementary, for example, the school kicked off the year with a long-term substitutes teaching a first-grade and fourth-grade class, the latter being an emergency fill after a teacher had quit unexpectedly within the first week of school.

Huff Principal Heidi Smith told the Voice that the first-grade position has since been filled, and a candidate for the fourth-grade position recently accepted the job offer. Despite the rough start, Smith said it hasn't been a problem for the school.

"I don't think it is a big issue other than Huff is not excluded from the Bay Area teacher shortage," Smith said in an email. "We have been lucky to find two great teachers after the year started."

Special education teachers, in particular, have been in short supply through the state, and the district had to hire 12 this year to fill all the vacancies -- the biggest turnover the district has had for special education, Robinson said.

In addition to hiring teachers with intern credentials to fully staff the special education department, Robinson said they have found a retired teacher willing to replace a long-term substitute currently teaching in a moderate-to-severe special education classroom. Once she is hired, Robinson said, the district will finally be done with its hiring spree.

"I am hoping next week is the week all the right people are in the right place," Robinson said.

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10 people like this
Posted by That's ok
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 17, 2015 at 3:51 pm

That's ok, soon schools won't be needed, internet learning is the new future. This way every kid will be on the same page for their achievement level. And only one teacher will be needed, the best teacher!!

7 people like this
Posted by not sure
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2015 at 4:05 pm

Reminds me of the commercials run by unions whereby "experts" proclaim that a certain amount of billions "needs" to be spent to remedy our highways and roads, without specific attribution as to studies/assessments and where it is clearly in the interest of the commercial maker to high-ball the "estimates" of "needed" public expenditures. A comedian does the voiceover on some; sponsored by construction unions, naturally. So consider the source when there is a hue and cry for more pubic expenditures, even on schoolteachers. Likely there is PLENTY of money in the system, it is just mis-used.

11 people like this
Posted by @Monta Loma
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 17, 2015 at 4:08 pm

Just because you want to have everything done through the internet, does not mean that everything SHOULD be done through the internet.

And if you don't believe me, look at the results that have come out from internet-only college classes. Can you say "fiasco"?

19 people like this
Posted by MV Mama
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 17, 2015 at 5:38 pm

As a parent, it's really disheartening to get an email on the Friday before school starts that they are still hiring teachers at your child's school. To start on Monday. I don't have confidence that "the best and brightest" are out looking for jobs the week before school starts. It seemed like they were looking for a warm body with the proper credentials (or as this article implies, almost with the proper credentials).

25 people like this
Posted by Sylvie
a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 17, 2015 at 6:17 pm

The feedback I've heard from teachers is that being afraid to speak up in school board meetings about issues in the schools does not help. I can't put the blame on Steve Nelson for the entire teacher shortage problem, which is statewide, but I can put the blame on him for creating a hostile atmosphere and tarnishing the reputation of our district.

MVWSD has a lot of liabilities-- lower pay, frequent turnover at the Superintendent and Principal levels, high cost of living. But for those reasons, we need to make extra sure that the people at the top are supportive and open and basically being reasonable human beings. Having a "leader" like Nelson around and visibly causing all manner of problems sure doesn't help.

18 people like this
Posted by mr_b
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 17, 2015 at 6:41 pm

Give teachers the pay to afford the area and treat them as you would any other professional OR give them reasonable housing vouchers (for rent or mortgage - their choice) that can be market-rate adjusted so they can have the dignity to live wherever they choose.

Don't be silly and try to trap teachers in some strange, inflexible teacher rental projects. This has been tried in the past and I think Cupertino is trying it now. Does the district really want to be involved in promoting/managing housing? I don't think so.

Anyway, if you are trying to make a profession a desirable one (or at least an affordable one), don't institutionalize more pity around it... there's plenty to pity about teachers already.

And stop grousing and whining about the cost of teachers without realistically considering what it costs to live in the area and what it really costs/will cost to attract AND keep people and then put REAL energy to offer that. People who are honest with themselves know that rents are going up more than 4% per year (many estimates place increases at three times that!). Most MVWSD elementary students can figure out that 4% < 12%; why can't adults?

Mountain View is already behind other districts in addressing teacher attraction/retention and will be losing more teachers very soon. If the D/O, Board, AND the City Council can't come up with some real solutions and backbone to support those SOON this district will be taking a nose dive right as students and teachers are trying to adapt to Common Core - a real reason for parents to exit MVWSD take their kids elsewhere.

This falls right into the hands of the "market forcers" on the Voice boards. For those people still stuck on thinking of themselves and their neighbors as market functions instead of humans that are a part of a community:
One market-based alternative is to reduce demand for teachers by driving even more parents away from the district, shrinking the student population and lowering home values.

12 people like this
Posted by hmm...
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 18, 2015 at 6:03 pm

The Huff's 4th grade teacher that "quit unexpectedly" actually left the school for a better job at the district. The district, the principal, and the teacher involved are to blame for the uncertainty that that forth grade class has had to endure the last five weeks. That 4th grade teacher asked to loop from 3rd grade to this year's 4th grade. Various teachers had to move to other grades to accommodate her request. Then she quits for a better job within the district and the district allowed it. Does the principal actually think that the parents believe her when she says, "it hasn't been a problem for the school"? If so, then she's really out of touch.

There's a difference between dealing with a problem that's out of your control, and one in which you've created. People will understand and forgive the former, but not the latter.

22 people like this
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Its a Sellers market for teachers. Good for them!

Teachers and prospective teachers are aware of the environment. They look at MVWSD and see:

- Steve Nelson
- A parcel tax that is crucial to fund current levels of funding at risk of not being renewed
- Steve Nelson
- Better pay in adjacent districts
- Steve Nelson

What would any rational employee with in-demand services do? They look elsewhere

18 people like this
Posted by Scott
a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 19, 2015 at 12:26 am

Rather than giving a sales tax increase to the VTA, why not send it to the teachers? They should all be making 6-figures to start.

9 people like this
Posted by Marybeth
a resident of Gemello
on Sep 19, 2015 at 5:48 pm

IMVWSD is a mess from top to bottom. Kids shuffled away from there neighborhood schools, segregated schools with a lottery system. Board meeting headed by a member that can't spell board members name.
Spending kids money foolishly on useless research. My all time favorite COMMON CORE.
If kids are leaving why not educators.
When is enough, enough with this district.

8 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 21, 2015 at 11:59 am

With all the problems this district self inflects soon we will hearing,"District hires consulting firm on how to fix problems"

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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