Teacher Turnover, Teacher Burnout, Part Two

Read Part One

Yesterday I posed a question. Is the teacher turnover rate higher in Colorado school districts that pay lower salaries?

The question relates to a decision on Tuesday, by the Archuleta School Board, to increase teacher salaries for the 2015-2016 school year — across the board, regardless of performance. That decision will play into a budgetary requirement to spend $527,000 out of school district reserves — to spend down the district’s savings accounts by over half a million dollars.

What keeps a teacher on the job? Is it the salary? Or something else?

Pagosa Springs High School.

Pagosa Springs High School.

Ten years ago, in 2006, the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) published a survey of the state’s school districts, listing the number of teachers, the student/teacher ratios, and the average district salaries. They listed the average state salary as $46,831 and the average student/teacher ratio as 16.9 — about 17 students per classroom teacher.

That report listed the average classroom teacher salary in Archuleta County as $41,585 and the student/teacher ratio as 16.1.  Both numbers were below the state average.

Then the economy crashed, and America stumbled into the darkness of a nationwide recession. Millions of people lost their jobs.  States and local governments slashed their budgets.  More that 12 million families were affected by foreclosure, according to a report from the University of North Carolina. One 2010 survey found 48 percent of Americans reporting a decline in the value of their home.

In 2011, the CDE published another survey report, showing the average Colorado salary as $49,046 and the student/teacher as 17.8.

The average salary in Archuleta County was reported as $44,831; the student/teacher ration was 16.7.

During the worst economic crisis in 80 years, the average teacher salary in Colorado increased by about 5 percent. Here in Archuleta County, the average salary increased by about 8 percent.

We should be careful to note that these “average” increases were driven by two separate factors.

1. Actual salary increases for teachers.

2. The downsizing of district staff — laying off the youngest (lowest-paid) teachers and retaining the most experienced (highest-paid) teachers. In 2006, the Archuleta School District had 105 classroom teachers; by 2011 the number had dropped to 84.  Presumably, the layoffs of less experienced teachers caused the “average salary” to reflect a higher dollar amount.

The teaching staff currently stands at about 88, although we have fewer students enrolled than we did in 2011.

Some interesting numbers. But they don’t answer our key question. How do the salary rates correspond to teacher turnover? As noted in Part One, the teacher turnover rate in Archuleta County last year was about 18 percent, slightly higher than the state average.

Here are six Colorado school districts with the highest turnover rates last year (provided by Co.Chalkbeat.org), and their corresponding starting salaries:

Karval RE23:
Turnover rate 81%. Starting salary $29,045

Pritchitt RE3:
Turnover rate 67%. Starting salary $24,400

Liberty J4:
Turnover rate 64%, Starting salary $29,500

Arickaree R2:
Turnover rate 44%. Starting salary $28,850

Lone Star 101:
Turnover Rate 41%. Starting salary $27,000

Frenchman RE3:
Turnover rate 36%. Starting salary $31,651

These six district, then, had an average starting salary of $28,407.

And here are the six Colorado districts with the lowest turnover rates last year, and their corresponding starting salaries:

Agate 300:
Turnover rate 0%. Starting salary $28,149

Dolores County RE2:
Turnover rate 5%. Starting salary $27,000

Colopaxi RE3:
Turnover rate 6%. Starting salary $29.520

Strasburg 31J:
Turnover rate 7%. Starting salary $36,850

Akron R1:
Turnover rate 7%. Starting salary $31,300

Aguilar RE6:
Turnover rate 8%. Starting salary $28,000

Average starting salary for the six districts with the lowest turnover rates in Colorado: $30,136. Not terribly different, then, from the average starting salary ($28,407) for the six districts with the highest turnover rates.

We can compare those salaries and turnover rates with the highest starting salaries in Colorado, and their district turnover rates:

Boulder Valley RE2:
Turnover rate 9%. Starting salary $41,901

Aspen 1:
Turnover rate 11%. Starting salary $40,500

Jefferson County R1:
Turnover rate 15%. Starting salary $38,000

Eagle County RE50:
Turnover rate 18%. Starting salary $37,624

Englewood 1:
Turnover rate 17%. Starting salary $37,342

Westminster 50:
Turnover rate 18%. Starting salary $36,079

The six Colorado districts with the highest salaries, then, had an average starting salary of $38,574, and had an average turnover rate of 15% in 2014.

And finally, the numbers for Archuleta School District 50JT.

Archuleta 50JT:
Turnover rate 18%. Starting salary $33,325

Our starting salary, here in Pagosa Springs, was 11 percent higher than the average for the six Colorado districts with the lowest turnover rates.  Nevertheless, our turnover rate last year was higher than the state average.

It could appear from the above analysis that higher starting salaries, by themselves, are not effective in holding down the teacher turnover rate. Yet the Archuleta School Board school board felt it advisable, on Tuesday, to give across-the-board raises to Pagosa teachers in 2015-2016.

Could the district have chosen to spend that money more wisely? That is to say, is there something more important than a larger paycheck, that can help produce lower turnover rates?

Or to put it still differently, what do the best teachers value most?

Read Part Three…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.