In what was called a "relatively low turnover" rate for Harford County Public Schools staff, members of the Board of Education learned Monday night that 489 staff members left HCPS between Sept. 1, 2011, and Aug. 31, 2012, 210 of them teachers.
In a report on staff retention given to the school board at its meeting in Bel Air by Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Jean Mantegna, it was noted that 174 new teachers were hired this school year, 97.1 percent of the hires having one year or less of experience.
In the past year HCPS received more than 18,500 applications, 3,070 for teacher positions, according to the report.
The number of "severed" teachers increased by 15 percent over the previous year and the overall teacher retention rate is 93.7 percent, one of the highest among the metropolitan area, the report states.
Turnover among central office, administrative and support services staff, however, was reduced by 8.5 percent.
The report noted that the number of separations and number hires has a large variation due to positions previously held, filled temporarily or changes in funding.
In addition 34.8 percent of teachers who left were retirees.
According to its approved budget for 2013, the Harford public school system has 5,370 employees, of which 2,843 are classroom teachers.
Edgewood High School had the highest teacher turnover, with 17.2 percent, followed by Aberdeen High, with 17.2 percent, and C. Milton Wright High, with 12.9 percent.
"Fifteen teacher offers were declined, primarily due to salary or acceptance of another offer," the report notes. Only one classroom teacher position was still vacant at the beginning of the current school year.
"This year, increased efforts were focused on HCPS student interns as a major recruitment source," the report continues. "Two Student Teacher Expo days were held providing the opportunity for 161 student teachers to engage administrators from every school within the system." Ultimately, 34 interns were hired as teachers.
"In a survey of teachers completing their first year in 2011-2012," the report states, "96 percent of the respondents indicated they would return to HCPS next year."
Teachers union head speaks
Prior to the presentation, Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey addressed the retention. The association is the union representing teachers and guidance counselors.
What was more disconcerting than the number of teachers who left the school system, Burbey said, was that they were teachers affected by the prior salary freeze and teachers in whom the county invested to develop and grow.
Burbey noted that he has spoken to some teachers about why they are leaving and heard that salaries and a lack of promotion possibilities were a big factor.
"We have to work together to fund this problem," he told the school board. "If we don't crack this funding problem, we're going to face this every year."
Board members respond
After the report was summarized, board member Bob Frisch referred to Burbey's earlier comments and noted the "considerable jump" in the number of staff leaving the school system, especially those with 10 to 15 years of experience (18.1 percent).
The percentage shows that staff with experience, "are leaving the system at higher numbers," Frisch said, which had been a concern on the board members' minds when debating the salary increase for HCPS employees earlier this year. Prior to final adoption of the 2013 budget last spring, the board approved 1 percent cost-of-living increases for all employees and step or longevity raises for those employees who were eligible, the first such increases in three years.
"If [the increase in turnover] continues to be a pattern," Frisch said, "that's of serious concern to us."
Fellow board member James Thornton agreed, saying the school system needs to better understand the statistics, more specifically why teachers are leaving.
Thornton and board members Nancy Reynolds and Cassandra Beverley asked Mantegna if exit interviews or satisfaction surveys are conducted, how often and what the data shows from that group of information.
Mantegna didn't have that data with her, but said she would provide those answers to the board.
Frisch added that he also has concerns about the ease of transfers between schools and how it can be difficult to "get out of certain schools."
He said he wants to know if difficulty in transferring within the system is a factor in some teachers leaving completely.