District aims to reduce high turnover

Facing district teacher turnover averaging 25% and as high as 50% in some schools, Richmond Community Schools has approved a plan to improve teacher retention using two types of supplemental payments. One teacher group says the process didn’t follow proper protocol.

First, all RCS teachers rated as highly effective or effective on this year’s evaluation who return in the fall will now receive a $525 stipend.

Second, to address the risk of losing teachers whose salary doesn’t appropriately reflect their years of experience or degrees earned, RCS will pay a stipend based on those factors.

Both are a one-time bump for the upcoming school year’s contracts.

RCS board members voted unanimously 7-0 to approve the plan at a special May 15 meeting, five days after a work session discussion. Thanking administrators for “burning the midnight oil” to quickly craft the proposal, they said it’s not a perfect solution but will help.

Board President Nicole Stults, a former teacher, is hopeful the decision will “address the immediate bleed.”

“We have to do something,” member John Weber said. “Doing it the same way is not working.”

RCS wants to retain those most at risk of leaving, which appear to be the district’s 60% of teachers with 0-15 years of experience.

Administrators have analyzed the recent departures and noted some concerns. For instance, Chief Human Resource Officer Jamie Bolser said new teachers can join a neighboring district at the same pay rate that it would take them 13 years to reach at RCS. In addition, some current 7-year teachers have the same salaries as new teachers.

With the approved change, those with 0 years of teaching experience for 2022-23 with a bachelor’s degree who make a current base salary of $43,250 will receive a $3,500 stipend. Stipends vary for each year of experience and/or having a master’s degree, up to 45 years of experience. Teachers with the highest salaries, based on longevity, will receive smaller stipends.

Member Pete Zaleski said the state code authorizing the stipends prioritizes meeting students’ academic needs. Zaleski said staffing consistency is important because relationships that teachers build with students are critical for their academic success.

Former Richmond High School teacher Brad Walton, now a board member, said students are the winners with this decision. Walton said RCS has “great” professional development but is training teachers to work in other districts because RCS isn’t able to keep them here. Turnover makes it difficult for departments and principals to build on the successes of prior years.

Weber said they’d hoped to address the pay inequity in previous bargaining sessions with teachers, but the idea kept coming off the table, and they’re grateful for Indiana General Assembly’s additional funding toward salaries.

Although Richmond Education Association President Kelley McDermott said she wasn’t opposed to fixing the issue, she believes a multi-contract, multiyear approach is needed.

She said REA and Indiana State Teachers Association officials believe RCS’ proposal didn’t go through proper collective bargaining protocol. Bargaining between the teachers’ union and RCS can’t begin until September. McDermott said the remaining 40% of teachers will have to bargain for any funds remaining after these stipends are awarded. 

McDermott said teachers have raised some concerns about the supplements, especially those with 15 or more years of experience who stayed through hard times, helped to reverse Richmond High School’s reputation for a high dropout rate, and who now feel their service is less valued than that of newer teachers.

However, Bolser said the district values veteran teachers, and by addressing turnover of the middle tier, RCS can stabilize the district’s workforce and reduce the challenges that experienced teachers face, such as mentoring new employees. RCS’ pay for those with 16-20 years of experience ($57,127) starts to get above the state average, Bolser said, and it’s about 32% more than beginning teachers make. Those with 21 to 25 years earn about 45% more than new teachers.

McDermott said she wasn’t aware of the changes made on the document between the work session and special meeting. The quick process damaged the trust between REA and current administrators that has been improving after damage during previous administrations, she said, and before September, REA will pursue its legal options.

Experience, salaries at a glance

Here’s a look at some groups of Richmond Community Schools’ current teachers.

  • 35% have 0-5 years of experience. Average base pay: $43,072
  • 13% have 6-10 years. Average pay $44,902
  • 10% have 11-15 years. Average pay $48,934
  • 11% have 16-20 years. Average pay $57,127
  • 14% have 21-25 years. Average pay $62,801
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A version of this article appeared in the May 24 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.