A decrease in teachers and shortage of money will have an impact in Cochise County as retention rates continue to plummet in Arizona.
The state hosts a myriad of poor working conditions for teachers, ranking in the bottom five in the following categories nationwide, according to a statistical analysis by Wallethub: Lowest annual salary, fewest teachers per student and lowest public school spending — all with an overall ranking of 48th, ahead of only West Virginia and Hawai’i.
About a half-million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year — attrition that costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually — according to the Alliance for Excellent Education. The high turnover rate disproportionately affects high-poverty schools and compromises the nation’s capacity to ensure all students have access to skilled teaching, the Alliance report says. The cost to refill those vacancies is estimated to be $4.9 billion annually, according to All4ed.
“I think that is the challenge that we face, it’s because we don’t have the budget for those types of things,” said Dawn Maddock, principal at Sierra Vista’s Buena High School. “I think at a state and national level and the fact that the state is 48th still in funding, we aren’t getting the increases we need.”
Maddock said the state’s recent increase in minimum wage to $10 and eventually $12 per hour by 2020 will create more budget problems. The hike, which follows the passing of Proposition 206 in the 2016 election, hasn’t been addressed by the Arizona Department of Education. Gov. Doug Ducey said in January he will implement a pay increase. His plan would raise pay rates by 2 percent over the next five years on top of the increases laid out by Proposition 123, which was a distribution of $3.5 billion over the course of 10 years to K-12 schools based on enrollment.
The Prop 123 distribution has been left to the school districts to manage, some divvying it up among all faculty and staff instead of just teachers, according to the Arizona Republic. The proposed pay increase by Ducey would equate to about $600 to $900 per year, which doesn’t alleviate financial concerns for most teachers.
Administrators nationwide have tried to get creative to attempt to retain educators.
Superintendent of Cochise County Jacqui Clay brainstormed several ideas. They included targeting high school students who want to become teachers and local community members who possess the skill of mentoring and coordinating with the University of Arizona to create a boot camp-style program to speed up the process of certifying a teacher.
“We need to focus on developing our own teachers who are familiar with the community,” Clay said. “We are looking at both short-term and long-term strategies because even if we have a two-year boot camp program, it will be no good if we don’t have a strategy in place to retain those teachers.”
The American Educational Research Journal estimates more than 30 percent of new teachers now leave the profession within the first five years. According to Clay, it’s even worse in Cochise County, with teachers leaving within three years.
At Tombstone High School, Principal David Thursby approached the topic in one very simple way: support. It may sound easy, but Thursby tapped into a delicate way of appealing to the psyche of teachers by showing that he cares, something that he employs his co-workers to do on a daily basis.
“I think the biggest thing that I do to retain teachers is that I support my staff,” Thursby said. “I back them up when there are discipline issues or parental issues.”
But caring will only go so far when proper funding and resources are scarce.
Thursby said there aren’t any programs that he can take advantage of in the state to help keep teachers in Arizona. Thursby admitted he is fortunate because many of his teachers enjoy the small-town feel of Tombstone and smaller class sizes, which provide a more inclusive learning environment.
Saul Bookman is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at email@example.com.