Lewiston schools seeing higher staff turnover

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Lewiston High School math teacher Samantha Garnett Sias outlines her grading system with students. Last year, the turnover rate for Lewiston public school employees was 12.1 percent, up from 10.2 percent the year before. Garnett Sias, president of the Lewiston Education Association, said demands on teaching staff are heavy.

LEWISTON — Nearly 20 percent of Lewiston public schools’ educational technicians, who help teachers in classrooms, left their jobs last year, contributing to a slightly higher voluntary turnover rate of Lewiston School Department staff.

Last year, 12.1 percent of employees resigned or retired. The prior before, the turnover rate was 10.2 percent.

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The head of the Lewiston teachers union considers the rate too high, while Superintendent Bill Webster said it’s in line with a district the size of Lewiston.

“Any organization wants to minimize its turnover rate,” he said. “We continue to seek to do just that.” Keeping the same staff is more effective than hiring and training new employees, Webster said.

One challenge is that Maine is experiencing full employment. “There aren’t a lot of people looking for jobs,” he said. “If you do hire someone, chances are they’re already employed, which creates a vacancy someplace else.”

Speaking to other Maine superintendents, Lewiston’s turnover is typical of other districts, he said. “Some are higher, some are lower.”

Samantha Garnett Sias, president of the Lewiston Education Association, said she doesn’t have numbers other than what the district provides, “but when I share the termination list, people are blown away.”

When she sees “talented, well-qualified teachers leave, it grieves me.”

The workload for teaching staff is high. Garnett Sias said she’d like to see “more respect for the working conditions and respect for teachers’ time.” Decisions made in the central office to improve student learning won’t work if teachers are overworked, she said.

Some administrators have improved how they incorporate teachers’ voices in decisions, Garnett Sias said, adding that more improvement would help.

Webster agreed workloads on teaching staff are high. “Teachers across the state and nation are dealing with more demands than at any time in the past,” he said. Expectations need to be aligned with what’s most needed in classrooms, he said.

New surveys of the climate at each Lewiston school this year will help administrators make improvements, he said. And, Webster has assigned Assistant Superintendent Shawn Chabot “to review assessments we ask teachers to administer to make sure we are offering what’s needed, but no more.”

That report will be given in the coming months to the School Committee, Webster said.

In Auburn, the turnover rate for teachers was 13 percent last year and 12 percent this year, Superintendent Katy Grondin said. Auburn’s turnover rate for ed techs was 25 percent last year; 17 percent this year.

With 10 schools and more than 325 teachers, there will be turnover, Grondin said. “Our goal is to have an effective educator in every position every year.”

Ed tech shortage

In both cities, the turnover rates for ed techs are high. Lewiston has 30 vacant ed tech positions it is working to fill.

Like substitute teachers and bus drivers, it’s another job where there’s a need for more workers; a number of districts in Maine are experiencing a shortage of ed techs, according to the Maine Education Association.

One reason why is many work as ed techs temporarily; the job is a stepping stone for someone to become a teacher, said Karla Downs. “And when the school year ends, the pay ends.”

Downs was an Auburn teacher for 35 years. When it was time to retire, she started working as an ed tech because she enjoys working with small groups of English Language Learner students, she said.

“Lewiston recognizes that ed techs are professionals,” Downs said. “It does require three years of college. Our job is to support what teachers are doing in classrooms.”

A number of Lewiston ed techs “left” last year to become teachers, Webster agreed.

No summer pay is an issue. Ed techs are full-time during the school year, but no work in the summer “leaves a number of weeks they are not employed.”

Teachers often don’t work in the summer either, but their annual salary is higher, Webster said. An ed tech might make $20,000, an average teacher $40,000 or more.

Calling ed techs critical to a successful school, Webster said Lewiston “needs to investigate further how we could develop year-round employment.” 

Lewiston public schools voluntary turnover rate:

All employees: 12.1 percent in 2016-16; 10.2 percent in 2015-16.

Teachers: 8.9 percent in both years (42 out of 472 left last year; 40 out of 451 left the year before).

Ed techs: 19.5 percent left last year (49 out of 251); 12.4 percent left the year before, (28 out of 226).

Source: Lewiston public schools 

Karla Downs, an educational technician at Montello Elementary School, plays a vocabulary bingo game with students last week. One reason for high turnover of ed techs is the job is often a stepping stone for people who want to become teachers, Downs said. Downs is a retired Auburn teacher.

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