Once again, MPS has faced the challenge of filling hundreds of teaching positions.
Nearly 500 teachers retired in the summer of 2013, prompting MPS to hold job fairs. Now, scores of those newer to the profession have left.
The numbers of teachers who’ve departed within the past few years are staggering, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Education Reporter Erin Richards. She says when the most recent MPS teacher contract expired in 2013, the time for retirement was ripe for many.
“At the end of last school year, the MPS teachers’ contract expired and that included some pretty favorable terms for people who had been in the district a long time. If they retired under that teachers’ contract, they know exactly what their benefits were going to be,” Richards says.
It was their last contract before Act 10 kicked in, Gov. Walker’s law erasing collective bargaining rights for most public unions. Richards says MPS records show 485 teachers took advantage of their benefits and retired. Yet she says the number who resigned by June of this year, stands at 426, and nearly half were teachers with fewer than four years’ experience.
“I found young teachers who had resigned to teach overseas in international schools. I talked to young teachers who had left the state altogether and who had left the profession altogether,” Richards says.
Richards says MPS faces unique challenges that make it difficult for young teachers to stay in the job. Milwaukee Teachers Union President Bob Peterson says many students live in poverty, and some teachers aren’t prepared for that reality.
“Coming into a new situation just like any new job, sometimes you’re up for it, sometimes you’re not. If you student taught in MPS or an urban area, you know what to expect. If you’ve only taught or been trained in communities that are quite a bit different, then people can be in for a surprise and they might not see it’s best for them to continue,” Peterson says.
Peterson believes some educators have left Wisconsin, searching for states that afford teachers more respect.
Dr. Karen Jackson, chief of Human Capital for the Milwaukee district, says it has 29 teacher vacancies, as the fall semester begins. She says the biggest challenge, is that the vacancies popped up late, "during the summer and particularly, in August," Jackson says.
Jackson says all Wisconsin school districts are experiencing the same. As for the reasons more teachers seem to be changing jobs, she says one is the fact that districts are competing for teachers, especially in the high-needs areas of math, science and special education.
"Needless to say, there is Act 10 which virtually eliminated contracts, and I think that created a more open market for teachers to say, I’m worth this much in district 'a' and maybe I can find out I’m worth more in district 'b,'" Jackson says.
She says MPS has been aggressively recruiting teachers, even abroad. "We’ve gone to Spain, and we’ve gone to Italy – that doesn’t necessarily mean physically, but we’ve reached out to those countries, and to Puerto Rico and Columbia," Jackson says.
Internally, Jackson says the Milwaukee district has taken steps to make its compensation plan more attractive. "Last year, we increased our starting teacher salary. This year, the board approved a new teacher compensation structure, so that we could be more competitive," Jackson says.
What help might MPS need from outside players? "I’ll start with our own local and regional colleges – they need to work with us to produce more urban-ready teachers," Jackson says.
Jackson says MPS must also grow its own, so it now sponsors a residency program in partnership with Cardinal Stritch University. Student-teachers spend a full year training in MPS and then commit to work in the district for three years, "so we provide stability and not have this turnover we’re experiencing," Jackson says.