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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News Tribune The lights were dimmed and the music was loud as Jefferson City Schools hosted the district's open session Friday to get the staff motivated and excited for the start of the new school year. The festivities started out at Adkins Stadium with a social time before the all-staff photograph on the field, after which they went to The Linc for the remainder of activities. During the event, the Jefferson City High School Drum Line, cheerleaders from both high schools and Capital City Dance Team performed for the large, cheering crowd.

Employment trends among staff of Jefferson City School District have generally been consistent — more resignations, stable numbers of retirements, fewer average years of experience but an increased average level of education among teachers, according to the most recent available data from JC Schools.

The district's human resources leader has said turnover is improving and is encouraged its turnover trends are better than the state average and some other districts' trends.

But the state's K-12 education department does not track turnover on a district-by-district level, and the state's school board association and Missouri State Teachers Association do not offer guidance on what a healthy turnover rate is for a district.

JC Schools turnover

JC Schools saw a sharp increase in the number of resignations among district employees between the 2009-10 and 2014-15 school years — increasing from 33 resignations among all staff to 127 — and that increase generally continued through the 2017-18 school year.

The school district had 111 staff resignations in 2015-16; 152 in 2016-17; and 147 in 2017-18, according to district records.

There were 30 retirements in 2009-10 and 45 in 2017-18, but the average number of retirements each year over that decade was more than 45, and more than 46 in the past five years.

JC Schools Director of Human Resources Shelby Scarbrough attributed the increased resignations to the growth in the size of the district's number of employees over time.

"In looking at Jefferson City trend data, I feel it's improving, our retention rate, but it's always something that we are looking at and evaluating so that we can continue to retain high quality staff," Scarbrough said.

"We've added a lot of positions," she said — and the more positions there are, the more people there are to resign or retire.

The number of JC Schools' full-time equivalent teachers increased from about 570 in 2008-09 to more than 670 in 2017-18 — a more than 17.5 percent increase over those 10 years — according to the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

According to federally-filed Equal Employment Opportunity reports, JC Schools employed a total of 1,276 people in 2014-15; 1,557 people in 2015-16; 1,722 people in 2016-17; and 1,478 people in 2017-18.

The EEO reports are snapshots of the beginning of each year.

Scarbrough said a previous year's data is definitively calculated in the fall once school starts.

She said some employment numbers were calculated before she started in her position and wanted to double-check her data before giving exact employee numbers.

She said 40 employees have been added so far for the coming school year — more than for most other years — including staff for Capital City High School and middle school reading and language arts teachers.

Scarbrough showed JC Schools' Board of Education last October, in the most recent annual district staffing report, that turnover rates had improved between 2016-17 and 2017-18 — from 8.3 percent to 4.5 percent among certified staff and from 8.7 percent to 6.5 percent among non-certified staff.

Certified staff includes teachers and administrators, and non-certified staff includes secretaries, aides, food-service workers and custodians.

"We'd like to attribute that to all of the different pieces that we have in place, from professional development to supporting our teachers in all sorts of ways, so that they feel they are valued and want to work," Scarbrough told the board of the reported improvements.

Compared to other Mid-Missouri districts in 2016-17 — the most recent available data from the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Scarbrough said — JC Schools' turnover rate was the sixth highest out of 11 and below the state's average, according to a chart she showed the Board of Education.

Scarbrough said the data from DESE was pulled by an analytic software product that then puts the data in a usable format, "because DESE doesn't do a lot of the comparison data."

The other districts JC Schools was compared to were: Camdenton R-3, Columbia, Eldon, Fulton, Gasconade R-2, Mexico 59, School of the Osage, Troy R-3, Warren County R-3 and Wright City R-2.

What is a healthy turnover rate?

It is difficult to at least immediately determine what exactly a healthy turnover rate is for a school district in Missouri, because of a lack of data and guidance on turnover.

DESE focuses on looking at teacher retention on a state level, and does not track turnover on a district-by-district basis, said Tyler Madsen, DESE's assistant director of communications.

Madsen said DESE's state-level focus on retention is about working on policy and recruitment as a state, and "we don't generate (retention data) on a district-by-district level, if only because not to, in essence, shame districts or try to point districts out that might have higher rates of turnover."

He said there can be many variables on a district-by-district level — two districts could have the same turnover rate for completely different reasons.

Madsen said districts do reach out to other districts for data, or it might be possible for a district to aggregate data that districts report "on the back end" to DESE.

Brent Ghan, deputy executive director for the Missouri School Boards' Association, emailed "teacher recruitment and retention is a major issue for school boards throughout the state. It's especially an issue for some of our rural school districts in some specific subject areas such as math, science and special education," when he was asked if the MSBA provides districts any guidance on what a healthy staff turnover rate is.

"Clearly, salaries are a factor, but we also need to support teachers in ways that will allow them to stay in the profession. Right now, we rank something like 48th in starting teacher salaries. We lose a lot of teachers in their first three years of teaching. We don't have any guidance on what a healthy staff turnover rate is," Ghan added, speaking about the state.

Todd Fuller, director of communication for the Missouri State Teachers Association, emailed that while he did not recall discussions about what a healthy staff turnover is, "We do talk to our members and districts about making sure the student to teacher ratio is conducive to learning."

What, or where, comes after turnover?

Among teachers who left JC Schools in 2016-17, more than 51 percent were no longer a teacher in Missouri — meaning they had retired, moved out of the state or had left the education field altogether, Scarbrough said in October to the Board of Education.

That 51 percent was the lowest share of former JC Schools teachers who fell into that category over the preceding five years, according to the data shown.

More than 15 percent of teachers who left the profession in the district in 2016-17 took another position with JC Schools — the most of the past five years — more than 29 percent of teachers who left the district went on to be a teacher in another school district, and the rest took some other kind of position in another district.

In the five school years leading up to and including 2016-17, Scarbrough reported: 18 JC Schools teachers had gone to Columbia; eight to the Southern Boone district; six to Blair Oaks R-2; and 17 in total between Eldon, Fulton, Moberly, Boonville, Jennings, Lee's Summit and Lindbergh's school districts.

"I think sometimes there's a perception that we're a training ground for other districts and we're losing a bunch of teachers," but Scarbrough told the board that may not be as a big of a concern, given the statistics she showed.

Non-certified staff resignations and retirements drove turnover in the district in 2016-17 and 2017-18, with a more than 52 percent share of the total resignations and retirements in the district in each of those years.

In 2017-18, 18 percent of non-certified staff turnover the News Tribune examined was from retirements — the rest being resignations — compared to more than 29 percent of certified staff turnover being from retirements.

The News Tribune did not include terminations, as there are few in any given year and mainly among non-certified staff.

Teacher experience, education

The average level of experience among JC Schools' teachers has continued to decline in recent years, while the education level and number of teachers have grown.

The average number of years of experience of a JC Schools teacher decreased from almost 16 in the 2005 school year to fewer than 12 in 2017, despite gaining 84 more full-time teachers in that time, according to data from DESE.

On average, JC Schools' teachers had 11.7 years of experience in 2017-18, compared to 11.9 years of average experience among the teachers of all districts in the state.

JC Schools' teachers had more than three years of average experience above the state average in 2008-09 — 15 years on average then, compared to the state's average of about 11.95 years.

A larger share of teachers in the state and with JC Schools have earned master's degrees than previously, too.

In 2017-18, more than 45 percent of teachers in Missouri had a master's degree, compared to 57 with JC Schools. In 2008-09, about 42.5 percent of Missouri's teachers had master's degrees, compared to 56.8 percent with JC Schools.

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