By Harold C. Ford
“Teachers are walking away.”
— Joyce Ellis McNeal, president, Flint Board of Education
The central issue at a four-hour Flint Board of Education (FBOE) Committee of the Whole meeting Aug. 10 was the “critical” shortage of candidates to fill vacant staff positions in the district — primarily teachers.
Flint officials said more than 40 positions are currently unfilled by qualified, full-time staff. Joyce Ellis-McNeal, FBOE president, stated 47 positions were vacant.
Karen Christian, United Teachers of Flint president, in a statement provided to East Village Magazine, said: “The United Teachers of Flint … are very concerned about the critical shortage of teachers in Flint Community Schools (FCS). Our children deserve to have certified, and highly qualified, teachers instructing them every day. … These staffing shortages adversely affect student achievement, especially our students that need extra support in and out of the classroom.”
Nonetheless, the FBOE turned down a proposal by central administration to create a new “recruiter position” whose task it would be to fill vacant positions in the district. Only Linda Boose, secretary, and Allen Gilbert, trustee, voted in favor of the proposal. “No” votes were cast by: Ellis-McNeal; Laura MacIntyre, treasurer; and Chris Del Morone, assistant secretary/treasurer. Absent were Danielle Green, trustee, and Carol McIntosh, vice president, who exited the meeting early. A minimum of four votes are required for passage of a proposal on the seven-member panel.
Flint students began reporting to class the week of Aug. 1. Flint adopted a “balanced calendar” starting the 2019-20 school year. A balanced calendar features an earlier start, a later finish, and more frequent breaks during the academic year.
Continuing resignations and retirements
At the same Aug. 10 board meeting, documents provided the public reported that 15 positions were recently vacated by Flint Community Schools (FCS) staff, taking with them 209 years of combined educational experience in Flint schools.
At the same meeting, only one new hire was announced, a new teacher assigned to Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School.
In recent years, EVM has reported on the continuing attrition of FCS staff when such information was made available by school officials. Hundreds of employees have left the district, taking with them more than 2,000 years of FCS experience.
“Teachers are walking away,” McNeal stated bluntly.
“They’re leaving the district,” Gilbert agreed. “No one really wants to come to our district because we’ve got no money to pay them.”
More than one FBOE member hinted at “poaching” by neighboring school districts that may offer better wages and fringe benefit packages. “We’re surrounded by competition,” McNeal declared.
In recent years, classroom teacher shortages have been so pronounced that “provisional” teachers without full certification have been hired to fill classroom positions while other school personnel, such as teacher aides, have had their contracts restructured allowing them to substitute for absent teachers.
Recent job fairs have been a bust, according to FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones. “We’ve not been able to hire from that pool of candidates,” Jones said. “We had a lot of candidates show up that was not qualified.”
“We’re typically not getting applicants,” confirmed Sharita Galloway, executive director of human relations.
A recent Facebook post by McNeal may have encouraged unqualified applicants to apply. It read: “Any person who has earned a Bachelor or Master Degree or both is qualified to do any task given them as it relates to Education.”
“Recruitment efforts due to staffing shortages is critical, if not paramount, to the success of Flint students,” Christian said.
Sacrificed planning periods: additional costs to the district
Jones said many categories of employed staff are currently being diverted from their assigned positions to cover classes with no teachers. That includes paraprofessionals, interventionists, and other teachers who sacrifice their scheduled planning periods.
According to Christian, “Teachers deserve to have their planning time each day without the frequent requests to cover other classrooms due to lack of staffing. Planning time is an essential component of student success in the classroom. … Sometimes teachers get no planning time at all.”
District leaders said the practice of having already-employed staff filling vacant positions is deleterious to an already-beleaguered FCS financial profile as substitute wages must be paid in addition to contracted salary.
Teachers who give up planning periods to serve as subs in vacant positions are paid to do their planning at home after regular hours. “That’s costing us,” Jones said. “We can’t continue to work like this.”
Ellis-McNeal estimated that FCS paraprofessionals — members of Service Employees International Union Local 517 — are earning sub pay of $25-$30 per hour in addition to their paraprofessional rate of $11 per hour.
“We need to downsize”
A larger issue exacerbating ongoing staff shortages may have been addressed by MacIntyre: “We need to downsize this district,” she said.
An audit by Plante Moran Cresa (PMC) report to the FCS board in Jan. 2022 recommended “rightsizing the district.” They told the FBOE at that time that the district needed only four elementary buildings.
FCS currently operates eight elementary buildings: Brownell; Doyle/Ryder; Durant-Tuuri-Mott; Eisenhower; Freeman; Neithercut; Pierce; and Potter.
PMC said that loss of students in recent years has led to underutilization of school buildings at all grade levels. The firm projected that FCS enrollment would continue to decline to 2,344 students by the 2030-31 school year.
Teacher shortages elsewhere, maybe
Teacher shortages caused by burnout, low pay, large class sizes, and the pandemic have been reported for years according to universities.com.: “The staffing issues tend to affect some states more than others, but most jurisdictions have difficulty hiring and retaining employees.”
A survey conducted earlier in the year by the National Education Association, as reported by News Nation, found that 55 percent of educators planned to leave the profession sooner than they’d planned due to the pandemic. And a report by the National Council of Education Statistics found that the pandemic caused 61 percent of school vacancies.
Some headlines scream teacher shortages. CNN: Teaching Profession “in crisis.” Washington Post: “America faces catastrophic teacher shortage.”
But Jill Barshay, in an Aug. 22 post for the Hechinger Report, quotes Dan Goldhaber, a labor economist at the American Institute for Research: “Attrition is definitely up, but it’s not a mass exodus of teachers.”
Goldhaber estimated that in a school with 1,000 students, there was half an unfilled vacancy, on average, in the fall of 2021. He told Barshay that the number of teachers is in line with historical patterns.
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The remaining meetings of the Flint Board of Education in 2022 are scheduled for: Aug. 17, Sept. 14 & 21; Oct. 12 & 19; Nov. 9 & 16; Dec. 14 & 21. They can be viewed remotely or in person. Meetings are held at the ALA building, 1602 S. Averill Ave., Flint, MI 48503. Further details are available at the FCS website.
EVM Education Beat reporter can be reached at email@example.com.