High teacher turnover rates worry Highlands parents

A band of parents at Highlands Elementary School are seeking answers from district officials over high turnover rates, seeking to end an apparent brain drain as teachers leave for jobs with higher-paying districts.

Teacher turnover in the San Mateo-Foster City School District hit Highlands School this summer when seven out of a total of 23 teachers left. Two retired and five resigned to take jobs in other Peninsula districts, according to Colleen Sullivan, head of the Highlands Parent-Teacher Association. In the past three years, 148 of the district's 574 teachers have resigned, according to Jean Rosas, the district assistant superintendent.

“We recognize that there are districts that pay more than we pay,” Rosas said. “What is important to realize is that we use more general-fund money for salaries and benefits than others comparable in the area. But it's not competing.”

New teachers in the district earn $39,241, and can earn as much as $72,820 after 22 years, according to Carole Delgado, president of the San Mateo Elementary Teachers Association. As a point of comparison, teachers in the Sequoia Union High School District were starting at $47,048 annually in the 2004-05 school year, and have received a 2.25 percent increase since then.

Like many parents, Delgado is concerned that new teachers coming in are simply here to be trained by the low-funded district, and are then moving on to better-paying jobs.

“It's been a blow, because these teachers have been ones we thought would be there forever,” Sullivan said. “It feels like the backbone is leaving.”

Board members and district staff are searching for ways to increase retention, particularly by finding other ways to recognize and reward teachers. They are also exploring ways to create housing for their employees, Rosas said — a prospect that could prove costly.

In the meantime, parents would like a better understanding of what experience levels teachers are taking with them when they leave.

“Every study shows that teachers' experience matters most,” said Michael Moy, a Highlands parent. “The district's own mission says that they will retain experienced staff.”

In past years, labor negotiations between teachers and district officials have been strained, resulting in a near-strike in 2005, Delgado said. However, the most recent negotiations earned the teachers a 3.77 percent raise, and a new three-year contract will be negotiated later this year.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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