We must retain and attract school district employees

In the beginning of May, about one month after being laid off, one of our CH-UH teachers was recalled to her assignment by administration. She refused the recall because she had gotten a job in another district—one of the more wealthy districts in Northeast Ohio, where it is unlikely that she will have to worry about being rated poorly on teacher evaluations for low student growth measures. The teacher is young and great at her job, enthusiastic and vibrant in her classroom. And we lost her.

We wish her and all of the teachers who will [no longer] be working in our school district well, and we will miss them. It is our loss. Of course, this is not the first time someone has left CH-UH employment, and won’t be the last. Every entry-year teacher who goes through residency here and leaves is wasted potential. Some people believe that new and young teachers are best for kids, and many of them are super, but a few years of experience makes a huge difference. The time and effort it takes to train new teachers is one that should not be squandered.

Attracting and retaining high-quality employees that are good fits for our district is a challenge. Being a native of the Heights, I am biased. I believe CH-UH is a wonderful place to live and work, but our schools have challenges that some other places do not have. It is not an easy place to work for many people. Many of our students come from impoverished backgrounds and have not all been exposed to enrichment experiences that are common among families that have more means.  

Great employees are attracted by job security, respect in the workplace, and fair compensation. With declining enrollment predicted in CH-UH, the security part of this equation is shaky.

When the layoffs were announced on April 5, there were 57.5 affected positions in the teachers union bargaining unit. As of this writing, we will have 45.5 fewer members. These numbers will not attract many people to eventual openings. Teachers, nurses, social workers, counselors and all the other people we represent will equate layoffs with instability. My guess is that many people will run the other way.

As of June 1, we will have had one negotiation session for a successor to the contract that expires on June 30. We negotiate language for many aspects of our jobs, only part of which includes wages and benefits. Topics include everything from how many meetings are required to whether our members are mandated to attend evening, weekend or summer workshops. Respect comes in many forms, but mostly in appreciating that sometimes people have other commitments outside of work that make them whole.

Being paid a competitive wage is also important. Over the last five years, teachers union member take-home pay has increased by 0.5 percent. Part of this is a result of changes to State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), but mostly it is because our wages have stagnated. If we do not change this trend it will be more challenging to attract new talent. What will entice younger, more-mobile employees to stay in CH-UH?  

Public schools around the country are being blamed and attacked for most of society’s ills. Here in our little special community, we need to preserve what we have and figure out how to enhance the areas where we excel. We need to be mindful of doing everything we can to retain and attract the best, most dedicated employees, or more of our best and brightest will take jobs in different communities, taking with them the benefit of our experience, training and mentoring.

Ari Klein

Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.

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Volume 9, Issue 6, Posted 10:39 AM, 05.30.2016