Printed on: January 10, 2013

Teacher morale is low

By Nate Sunderland
nsunderland@postregister.com

A new legislative evaluation report found a "strong undercurrent of despair" among Idaho teachers and school administrators.

The findings, presented Tuesday to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee, show a general dissatisfaction among teachers for Idaho's educational climate.

"We heard an undertone of despair among teachers who felt like their work was going unappreciated," state analyst Lance McCleve said. "There was also some resentment towards their profession."

McCleve presented the findings on behalf of the Office of Performance Evaluations.

The report draws on more than 2,800 responses from teachers, principals and school superintendents in Idaho.

Those surveyed make up about 72 percent of the state's school district and charter school educators.

The report was commissioned by the committee a year ago to help ensure that educators were heard in the legislative decision-making process.

Local educators agreed with some of the sentiments expressed in the report.

Many eastern Idaho teachers felt disenfranchised because of the Legislature's quick passage of the Student Come First Laws, Rexburg Education Association President Dawn Anderson said.

The November repeal of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 by state voters gave local teachers hope that the Legislature will listen to their concerns before enacting future education reform.

But many teachers, including Heather Rasmussen at Edgemont Elementary School in Idaho Falls, remain skeptical.

"It's obvious from the passage of Students Come First that education is not a priority in Idaho," Rasmussen said. "(Legislators) don't look at teachers as vital to our economy, and so I don't think they are compensating teachers (in Idaho) what they are worth in other states."

Concern over Idaho's low teacher pay scale was cited in the report.

"We heard repeatedly that one of the biggest problems for districts was recruiting and retaining teachers because their compensation packages aren't really competitive with surrounding districts in other states," McCleve said.

The report found that full-time teachers, on average, are paid $43,000 a year.

Madison School District 321 Superintendent Geoffrey Thomas said his district has a high teacher turnover rate, largely because it can't pay educators more money and raises don't come frequently enough.

"We had a 20 percent turnover last year because teachers fled to other states to get more money," Thomas said. "Under the current state formula, we just can't attract and retain applicants."

The report did find, however, that the statewide teacher turnover rate isn't as bad as reported last year by the State Department of Education, as well as the news media.

"The turnover data that was reported by the media had some significant errors in it," McCleve said. "They reported very high numbers because they included noncertified staff like lunchroom workers and custodial staff -- those shouldn't have been included."

Evaluators found teacher turnover has experienced a moderate increase during the past three academic years -- from 937 certified staff leaving their positions in the 2009-10 academic year to about 1,112 in 2011-12.

The report also deals with class sizes.

It found that statewide class sizes averaged about 24 students, which is higher than the 17 students per class average touted by the Department of Education.

McCleve said the report's data is more accurate because it relied upon a student-to-teacher ratio. The Department of Education used a ratio based on all instructional staff, including counselors and aides.

The report's findings will be presented to various legislative committees during the next few weeks.

According to The Associated Press, there might be some interest among GOP leaders in both the House and Senate in taking smaller steps in reshaping public schools.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is seeking recommendations from a broad committee of education leaders. The governor appointed Thomas to the committee Wednesday.

On the internet

73-page survey findings:

tinyurl.com/ID-teacher-survey