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Continuing teacher exodus is likely to cost school district $1 million this year


The exodus of teachers from Indian River schools continues with more teachers leaving in May, bringing the total for the year so to 86 who have submitted their resignations or retired, according to the latest figures provided by the district’s Human Resources office.

That number is expected to rise as disgruntled teachers continue to seek jobs in other districts or leave the profession entirely – a trend that is likely to cost the school district $1 million or more this year to recruit and train replacements.

A hostile work environment, an indifference to teacher concerns, sky-rocketing health insurance premium rates and low pay are some of the reasons more than 500 teachers have left the school district during the past four years, said Liz Cannon, head of the local teacher’s union.

“Unfortunately, this is normal for us,” Cannon said. “We’ve been hemorrhaging teachers for years. The district has made it so unattractive to be a teacher here, if you can get out of here, why not?”

Cannon and other union representatives are especially concerned that many of the 240 first-year probationary teachers who worked for the district during the 2018-19 school year will begin to resign soon because the district has not yet indicated whether it will renew their contracts for the upcoming school year. The district annually employs about 1,100 teachers.

“Usually, this has already been taken care of,” Cannon said of probationary teacher notifications. “People have to start making other plans if they’re not sure they still have a job.”

During a recent negotiation session with the district, Cannon and other teachers said former Superintendent Mark Rendell fostered a draconian atmosphere in the district that encouraged principals to be openly hostile and dismissive of teacher concerns.

Teachers throughout the county cite student behavioral issues, pressure to produce better standardized-test scores and a general absence of appreciation for the challenges they face as reasons for low morale, Cannon said.

Rendell, who resigned in May after the board voted not to renew his contract beyond June 30, 2020, could not be reached for comment.

Michelle Olk, school district director of employee labor relations, said the district can help improve relations between administrators and teachers by providing principals with more training to improve their communication and personnel relations skills.

The district is working on teacher retention and recruitment strategies but will need to get board approval before any plans are implemented, Olk told Cannon during a recent negotiation session. Olk did not know when those strategies would be made public.

School Board Chairwoman Laura Zorc said she and other board members are concerned about the high number of teachers who continue to leave the district.

“We’re still waiting for the district’s human relations department,” Zorc said. “They need to give us a plan to deal with retention and recruitment.

“We know it’s not just a salary issue. It’s about providing more training and making sure that our teachers are treated like professionals.”

Losing a single teacher costs the district thousands of dollars, Zorc said.

“It costs between $8,000 to $10,000 to recruit and train each new teacher we hire,” Zorc said.

If the district loses 100 teachers this year, as it is on track to do, that could mean a million dollars in taxpayer money will have to be spent on recruitment and training.

According to Florida Department of Education statistics, 523 teachers have left the Indian River School District during the past four years, including 330 that chose to resign. The others either retired, were terminated or didn’t have their contracts renewed.