Local school system officials outlined at a recent school board town hall how they are trying to stay ahead of a teacher shortage curve.
Teacher retention has been become an issue across the nationwide. There has been a significant drop in the number of teachers from 2011–21, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
“Everybody is aware there is a national shortage of teachers,” said Michele Dasher, Liberty County School System director of human resources. “Everybody is having to look outside that box to help that shortage.”
The school system has 1,400 full-time employees and about 150 substitutes. Dasher said social media is one of their most effective tools in promoting and pushing job announcements and vacancies.
School system representatives have been going to college job fairs to recruit new teachers. Dasher said the numbers of prospective teachers are starting to come up a bit at the job fairs she’s attended.
The central office has built recruitment teams with school administrators and has formed partnerships with Georgia Southern University.
The system has offered signing bonuses in the past and its salaries are among the highest in the region, Dasher noted.
“We do promote that,” she said. “We are always looking at salaries to see what we can do to stay competitive.”
The biggest reason for attrition in the system’s teacher ranks is retirement, Dasher said. Since 2017– 18, Liberty County schools have stayed above the state level in teacher attrition. The attrition rate for the local district was 17.1% in 2016–17 but was down to 11.3 in 2020–21.
Among the reasons teachers across the nation cite for leaving before hitting their retirement marks are stress, burnout and lack of support.
“So we are giving them the support they need,” Dasher said.
Teachers are assigned mentors for their first three years, and there are support plans for teachers who have not finished obtaining their certification. There also are performance enhancement plans for teachers who are struggling in the classroom, and teacher advisory committee task forces are charged with helping the school system see what it can do better.
Dasher also pointed out the system’s leadership development programs and how the schools provide leadership opportunities from within its ranks.
There are other employee recognitions and incentives, many of which are done at the school level and include breakfasts and lunches for teachers and rewards for attendance.
Building a reliable base for substitutes has been hard, Dasher said, but the system is seeing the numbers grow this year. There were once 125 teacher substitutes and that number has gotten as low as 75–80. Typically, the system needs around 30 subs a day.
“It’s still a challenge for us,” Dasher said.
School system officials also were adamant that layoffs and furloughs will be avoided.
“A couple of years back we had to enforce a RIF and put in place some furlough days,” said Stephanie Clark, the school system chief financial officer. “Dr. (Franklin) Perry tells me we’re not doing RIFs and we’re not doing furlough days.”
Finding enough bus drivers also has been a challenge and it’s been harder since the pandemic, transportation director Tracee Hill said at the town hall.
There are 32 open positions for bus drivers and there are five candidates currently in training.
“It was hard to get those drivers back into the workforce,” she said. “I really believe, not only this school district, but everywhere, it was because of COVID, and trying to bounce back from that.”
All the mechanics positions are filled and the system has hired two additional driver trainers. Prospective drivers also have been offered having their CDL training provided at no charge.
“We do advertise our positions on our school digital signs and posting on system Facebook page,” Hill said. “We also have a recruiter.”
The transportation department also has begun using school athletics events as a means to get attention for its open spots.
“You will start seeing us more next year at football games and basketball games,” Hill said.
The school system’s buses transport nearly 8,000 children each morning and afternoon and the buses log nearly 1 million miles a year. There are 63 bus routes for regular education children, 19 for those in special education and three routes are dedicated to students attending Horizons.
The school system also carries 13,000 students for extracurricular activities, covering 125,000 miles.
Liberty County Schools have 122 buses in its fleet and is adding eight new buses. Two special needs buses with lifts will be delivered next month, Hill said, and six new 78-passenger buses will be delivered this summer.
The schools also are making 11 buses that are at least 10 years old surplus. About 15 buses that are not equipped with air conditioning are being retrofitted with AC systems, and Hill said that should be finished soon.
The number of regular education bus routes has been reduced from 88 to 63, and the number of special ed bus routes has been condensed from 27 to 19 because of driver shortages. New routing software is being used to make sure routes are done efficiently, Hill said.
Hill said a new tracking software and app will allow parents to see where their child’s bus is. She also stressed to parents to have their children at the stop at least five minutes before the bus’ scheduled arrival and to make sure all addresses and phone numbers are up to date.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about safety,” she said.