School district tackles hiring crunch

Staff turnover nears 9 percent

Posted: Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Out with the old and in with the new" could be the battle cry for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, as nearly 9 percent of its staff has opted to resign or retire this year. The phenomenon leaves an extensive cavity in teaching staff as the district makes a flurry of hirings — something that could continue for several years due to an aging work force.

To date, 52 teachers have retired from the district this year. Tim Peterson, school district human resources director, said there are two groups of teachers who are leaving. One group is young people who taught for one to three years and found that teaching here was not what they expected it to be. The other large group is compiled of the older generation who put in 20 or 25 years, depending on which tier they belong to, and decided to start drawing their pension. The aging phenomenon could last for several years, as there are more than 100 teachers who are eligible to retire. There is a total of 600 teachers in the district.

Superintendent Donna Peterson said she hopes the end of the teacher hiring process comes soon, since it's a precarious situation as some specialized positions will be quite difficult to fill, such as positions in remote villages and special education positions because there is limited training in Alaska.

Other spots were filled relatively easily through recruitment visits to career fairs Outside. The recruitment season was March and April and, according to Tim Peterson, a fruitful one.

The recruiting team toured seven states and went to nine career fairs to find their picks. In those visits, Peterson's goal is to find top-notch candidates.

"I'm looking for the best teachers I can find," he said.

As the search continues, the district is deep in its staffing overhaul.

"I hired 10 teachers just today," Peterson said.

There were in the vicinity of 70 teaching positions to be hired. In addition, there were 25 principal positions open throughout the district.

Music teacher Mim McKay is one of the resigning teachers this year. Only four years away from the ability to draw a pension, McKay made an expensive decision.

"It's been a tough decision to make," McKay said.

If she would have taken a pension, she figures she would have drawn close to $500,000 if she lived to age 75.

"I am exhausted. I don't think people realize how tiring teaching can be, especially with all the extra performances and rehearsals," she said. She has cautionary words for the next generation of educators.

"Anyone who starts teaching is usually shocked to see how much time and energy it takes. Most of us who go into teaching do so because we care and we want to do a great job, but you're never done teaching and teachers tend to stress themselves out by trying to be everything possible with education," she said.

"And with all the reductions and budget problems, I just hope they can find a way to offer programs, because language, the dance programs and music have been taking hits. That's one of my fears with resigning."

Though she is leaving early, McKay said those she worked with — the students, administration and school board — have all been wonderful. It's just that teachers are expected to do "an awful lot."

Part of the reason McKay moved to the peninsula is because she believes it's a good place to raise kids. Peterson agrees and stresses that point as he and his team recruits at teacher job fairs.

"I stress quality of life — because that's what we have," Peterson said.

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