Garden City USD 457 started the school year with 32.5 positions open, almost exactly in line with how it started the school year last year, Deputy Superintendent Heath Hogan told the district’s Board of Education Monday.

Of the 32.5 vacant positions, 28 were filled by long term substitutes, including eight waiting to receive their teaching licenses, six currently in programs to earn licenses and 14 standard substitutes. The four positions were filled by student teachers, Hogan said. Last year, the school started the year with 32 vacant positions.

The positions are what’s left over after 76 separations at the end of the 2018-19 school year, Hogan said, including 13 retirements and 63 resignations, five of which were done after the district’s resignation deadline, this year falling on May 31. That turnover rate — 12.1 percent of USD 457’s 624 employees — is high, but not out of line with state and national turnover rates, Hogan asserted.

The National Center of Education noted a 16 percent national turnover rate in the field of education. Hogan said the number goes up, sometimes hitting 22 percent, in districts with high free and reduced lunch populations, like USD 457.

The Kansas State Department of Education reported that 2018-19 school year began with 600 vacant positions in Kansas, Hogan said, 100 more from the previous year. Nearly half of school districts reporting those vacancies were in southwest Kansas, he said.

Like last year, Hogan said the three key reasons teachers cited for leaving Garden City in their exit surveys were following a spouse or significant other out of the area, moving closer to family or the geography itself — southwest Kansas just wasn’t for them. Hogan told The Telegram later that, according to exit surveys, there were no other notable factors contributing to teachers leaving the district. Outside factors like a local housing and childcare shortage do affect teachers, but do not seem to be a reason for leaving the district, he said.

Garden City has had to take new measures in recent years to attract teachers to the district. Representatives of the district still carry out traditional recruiting methods, traveling in at 42 job fairs in 12 states ahead of this year, compared to a record 45 fairs in 19 states last year.

They also try to combat employees’ main reasons to leave by encouraging locals to earn their teaching licenses. In recent years, the district has hired several regional residents who have earned their license remotely through bachelor’s and master’s teaching programs like Fort Hays State University’s Transition to Teach, Kansas State University’s Master’s in the Art of Teaching (MAT) program, Wichita State University’s Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP), and similar courses at Newman University.

Student teachers receive an incentive for coming to the area and a new collaborative program between Garden City Community College, WSU and the Kansas Department of Commerce allow local students to gain experience at USD 457 while earning their teaching license locally, using their income at the district to help pay for the program as they go. The program kicks off this year with 12 students, Hogan said, and the district hopes to eventually enroll 15 students a year.

Heritage Inn and Parrot Cove Water Park in Garden City also offer an incentive to teachers referred to the district by current employees and employees that refer the district in the first place.

This year, the district will also kick off a KSU Leadership Academy, which allows teachers at USD 457 and Dodge City USD 443 to earn their master’s degrees. The program, which board members approved Monday, already includes about 12 Garden City teachers.

He said the administration was also understaffed in this regard, and that recruiting employees to the district is a year-round job.

In other business, after an executive session, the board voted in regards to two employees' requests to leave the district without waiting for a replacement or paying the liquidation fee. Per state statute, district employees must submit notice of their resignation before two weeks following the third Friday in May. Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center teachers Mari Ayala-Romero and Brandt Becker both requested to be released from their contract after the deadline.

Following the recommendation of the district's liquidated damages committee, the board voted unanimously to not release Ayala-Romero from her contract until a suitable replacement has been found and the $4,000 liquidation fee has been paid to the district. Members voted to release Becker from his contract and waive the fee and replacement clause, except board member Tim Cruz, who said he believes everyone should pay the fee. Board members declined to comment on their decisions behind the motions, citing personnel matters.

Unlike last year, the district will not seek to suspend the Kansas teaching licenses of teachers who leave the district after a late resignation, said superintendent Steve Karlin.