The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

District: Staff resignations on par with previous years

Union rep says staff loss will be “devastating” for students

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is on course to lose 124 certified and support staff members by the end of the 2021-22 school year, according to data published Monday by the district.

Union leadership says the exodus reflects a body of staff that is at their limit, while the district says the number is on par with what KPBSD has seen in previous years.

Nathan Erfurth, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents the district’s certified staff, said that 40 resignations submitted by certified staff in March is the most the district has had in one month, but that the district offered tenured and non-tenured teacher contracts at the same time this year, which likely contributed to the spike. Usually, Erfurth said, tenured and non-tenured contracts are spread out over multiple months so the total is spread out across multiple reports.

KPBSD Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said Monday that the number of resignations received this year is “completely on par” with where the district has been for the last several years. In fiscal year 2019, Erkeneff said, the district had 75 retirements and resignations from teaching staff. The following year, fiscal year 2020, they had 60. In fiscal year 2021, there were 67 retirements and resignations.

“We’re feeling really good, actually, where we’re at with kind of the same number that we have with retirements and resignations most years,” Erkeneff said.

Erfurth said more resignations are expected in following months, but said the total number isn’t always what’s important.

“I think at a certain scale, we focus too much on the number and not on the fact that — look at all these different classroom teachers, all these interventionists,” Erfuth said. “These people work with kids and make this huge difference. Each one of these is dozens and dozens of stories.”

A Clarion survey of KPBSD resignation data published to BoardDocs, the district’s hub for meeting information, found that, since the first day of the 2021-2022 school year on Aug. 16, 124 resignations have been submitted, including 46 from support staff and 78 from certified staff.

Of the 124 resignations already submitted, 55 have already left the district. The other 69 will finish out the current school year, but will not return for the following school year. Roughly one-third of resignations came from support staff, while the rest came from certified staff.

Ultimately, the real impact of staff loss will be felt by students, Erfurth said.

“It’s going to be devastating, especially to kids, because they’re gonna see teachers leaving their buildings who they were expecting to have next year that they’re very excited about,” Erfurth said.

Erfurth said the district could have provided incentives for staff retention by offering COVID bonuses or retention and recruitment bonuses. The district approved one-time payments of $1,500 as part of bargaining agreements with the certified and support staff unions last year, however, Erfurth said the payment was approved in lieu of a salary increase.

“To not have the sort of mental health and even, you know, financial compensatory support that people needed after this year, especially now that inflation is doing what it’s doing, it’s the end of the road for a lot of people,” Erfurth said.

The district has worked in other ways to help teachers out this year. More early dismissal days were announced in December, with the goal of giving teachers more time to plan lessons, to communicate with parents and to use student data to help inform classroom instruction. Approval from the KPBSD community prompted the addition of three more early release days to the current school year.

“I think the real key to keeping an educator is making sure that their voice is at the table (and) making sure they know that their input is valued and acted on,” Erfurth said.

Erkeneff said that district leadership works to make themselves available, such as by visiting schools and through an instructional team that includes the assistant superintendent and the directors of student support services, elementary education and secondary education. The district is also continuing to work on recruitment of new staff for the district, including through in-person and virtual job fairs and revamped marketing campaigns.

The district implemented changes to its COVID-19 mitigation plan this school year that prioritized keeping kids in classrooms. The move was in response to widespread frustration with a back-and-forth shift between remote and in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year. Erfurth said he received “dozens” of emails this school year from staff who felt the KPBSD’s treatment of COVID-19 on a school-by-school basis was frustrating because they did not know what to expect day-to-day.

Looking ahead, Erfurth said the district needs to focus on three things: responsiveness, delegation and communication. As it relates to being responsive, Erfurth emphasized the importance of getting responses when teachers reach out with their concerns. Instead of feeling like problems should be handled at the district office in Soldotna, Erfurth encouraged bringing teachers from around the district together to find solutions.

For example, Erfurth said staff have offered “multiple times” to bring elementary teachers together to talk about the issues facing their students, particularly as it relates to reading. Instead of looking at students as being behind, he emphasized a need to understand that some 7-year-olds are now in school for the first time and are making progress despite not hitting pre-COVID benchmarks.

“(Metrically) speaking, it looks like these kids are behind when in reality, they’re just living through this with the rest of us,” Erfurth said.

Something important to remember, Erfurth said, is that the teachers who have resigned all got into education because of a shared love for education and for teaching students. The phone calls he gets are not people saying they want more money, but rather people saying they need to leave the classroom or they’re going to have a mental health crisis, he said.

“There are a lot of names on this list that were not going to leave this year if it hadn’t gone this way,” Erfurth said.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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