Wauwatosa schools teacher departures rise at summer's end
22 cited in August documents as leaving
A wave of resignations reported this month has borne out teacher claims that resignations from the Wauwatosa School District this year have increased.
Twenty-two staff resignations are listed this month on School Board agendas, equaling the August total for the last four years put together, and by far the highest number since at least 2007. The number, representing employees, not full-time equivalents, may change the picture of the district as experiencing normal turnover, as reported to the School Board in July.
Most of the resignations took effect in June. The majority of the resignations are teachers, but aides, assistants, two assistant principals, and a principal are included in the number.
"A lot of the people who are leaving are getting higher salaries in other districts," said Jeffrey Hansher, president of the Wauwatosa Educators Association and a fifth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School.
Higher salaries elsewhere, a climate that better respects teacher input, and a need for improved communication between the central office and teachers were the chief reasons for teacher departures cited by Hansher.
At the lower end
"At one time, Wauwatosa used to be near the upper end when it came to teacher salaries," Hansher said. "Now we're at the lower end." He cited the Cudahy School District as an example of a district with a higher salary scale than Wauwatosa.
Superintendent Phil Ertl said turnover is not only happening here.
"It's happening around the area. As people are leaving, they're going into positions that people have left, so it's kind of a waterfall effect."
Ertl, who interviews virtually all new hires, said many leave for personal reasons, even such things as a shorter commute or an easier pickup schedule for their kids. But what he values most are those who will comment on the district, and how it could have served them better.
Departing teachers are offered exit interviews by Director of Human Resources Dan Chanen.
Both Hansher and the administration have identified those most likely to depart as teachers with five to 10 years of experience, a point at which salaries reach a plateau, making salaries in other districts more appealing. While teachers who leave are replaced, the lost experience, and fewer mentors for new teachers, hurt the district, he said.
Also, Act 10, which eroded bargaining rights for public employee unions, crippled seniority, Ertl said.
"Part of what kept people in the same district — and I say only part of it — is that seniority meant something," he said. Starting over in a new district meant giving up job security, especially, and beginning again at the bottom, making a teacher more vulnerable to layoff or non-renewal.
"It's really not the case any more," Ertl said. "So you're really not holding onto any job security by staying."
Low raises for veterans
Hansher noted that last year's contract — an average 2.08 percent increase in base pay — compressed the salary schedule, rewarding newer teachers with higher raises than were given to those with more experience.
"The people at the top didn't get very much salary increase, but a lot of the administrators got hefty salary increases, and they were telling the teachers that they didn't have enough money to keep people at the top," he said.
A document on administration salaries provided by Hansher shows Ertl receiving a 4 percent increase for 2012-13, to $163,738. Other administrators receiving 4 percent hikes include Tosa West Principal Frank Calarco; Tosa West Associate Principal Matthew Byers; Director of Student Learning Beth Erenberger; Longfellow Principal Jason Galien; Supervisor of Student Services Dean Heus; and Director of Business Services John Mack.
Less quantifiable concerns also play a role in teacher departures, Hansher said. He said he attended a presentation on compensation, and a great deal of the discussion was about teachers not feeling valued, and a climate in district that doesn't encourage their input and call on their expertise.
These issues go hand in hand with complaints about poor communication. Ertl said he is committed to "a lot of communication, a lot of discussion, and a lot of listening."
Leading in departures
In the recent round of announced resignations, Madison Elementary School led in the number of resignations listed, with five, including two teachers, two special education assistants and a part-time literacy assistant.
Wauwatosa East High School had four resignations, including two English teachers, a French teacher, and a business education teacher.
Concern about resignations at Tosa East in the spring prompted a letter signed by almost every East teacher asking the administration to address the issue of teacher turnover.
At a July presentation to the School Board, Human Resources Director Dan Chanen said overall teacher turnover was occurring at a normal rate, but that Tosa East had the highest number of departures, losing more than 10 full-time equivalents. Hansher said that might represent as many as 20 people.
In addition to Madison and Tosa East, at least one departure was noted in the documents for Washington, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Underwood elementary schools; Whitman and Longfellow middle schools; and Wauwatosa West High School.
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