Education, Jefferson County

Jeffco teacher 'exodus' vastly overstated, exaggerated

Note: This is the second in Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif’s series of “Know before you go” stories, breaking down the arguments presented by a group of Jefferson County residents seeking to recall three members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education. In this story, we take a look at teacher turnover. Read part one of the series here.

Since 2009, the number of teachers leaving their positions statewide has grown steadily from around the 13 percent per-year mark to 17 percent per year.

According to Colorado Department of Education (CDE) statistics, more teachers left positions in their districts last year than in any of the previous 15 years.

The increase coincides with a steadily improving economy and fewer teacher candidates coming out of college. Teacher turnover, or “churn,” is not new to school districts. The profession has become much more competitive, and school districts from across the country battle year after year for the same workforce. Pueblo District 60’s human resources director Paula Chostner told the Pueblo Chieftain, “It’s a hard time to be in education right now.” Chostner was describing similarly high turnover rates being felt in Pueblo.

Jefferson County Public Schools is no different, says Board of Education President Ken Witt.


“In an improving economy, some increase in job mobility is expected,” Witt said, noting that Jeffco’s turnover of 15 percent is still below state average.

Jeffco’s current teacher turnover is in line with historical trends, slightly below state average. In 2004, the district’s turnover rate was higher and closer to the state average than it is today.

The same CDE document shows that in school districts that employ more than 4,500 people, Jeffco has the second lowest teacher turnover at 14.7 percent for 2014-15, only Cherry Creek is lower at 9.33 percent.

Douglas County is 16.72 percent; Adams 12 Five-Star Schools is 19.63 percent; Denver Public Schools is 21.79 percent; and Aurora Public Schools is 22.05 percent.

A handful of Jeffco residents have launched a recall campaign against Witt and two other board members, Vice President Julie Williams and Secretary John Newkirk, based on what they say is a mass exodus of teachers from the district because of board members’ actions.

“Their unprofessional actions have pushed over 700 educators this past year to leave Jeffco schools, most to teach in other districts, because the educators believe the Board Majority’s policies hurt their ability to educate our students,” the petition states as grounds for recall.

That statement is factually wrong on all accounts, according to documents obtained by Complete Colorado through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

The district’s human resources director Amy Weber told the board at a recent meeting the number being tossed around is skewed.

“I would question, are those numbers that you pulled off the CDE website?” Weber asked board member Lesley Dahlkemper at the June 18 meeting. “Because the CDE website we need to be a little cautious about.”

Dahlkemper brought up the topic during discussion on the 2015-16 budget. She reported 700 teachers left during the 2013-14 school year, calling it a “50 percent increase” over 2012-13.

However, Weber said the data on the CDE site is complicated and based on a file that the district sends the state each year that doesn’t account for people who changed positions within the district or teachers on temporary contracts.

“We are running about 100 [persons] higher than the previous year,” Weber said. “One hundred people in a population of 5,500 teachers is about 2 percent. So we are not seeing the excessive turnover that I know social media is reporting.” (For the full video of this exchange between Dahlkemper and Weber regarding the CDE statistics, go to time marker 11:48 in the video below.)

Data received from the school district through a Colorado Open Records Act request shows that number has not reached 700 in the last three years.

The most up-to-date records for this year show about 116 teachers left the district from October to June, but final numbers for the 2014-15 school year will not be available until after school starts in the fall and the district has an accurate head count. Like in any year, the 116 number is certain to go up as the majority of terminated contracts are recorded in September.

But Weber told the board the file she sends CDE each year doesn’t add up for several reasons.

“What it doesn’t account for is people who may have moved within the district in two different positions,” Weber said.

She used the example of teachers who move internally into administrative jobs.

“So it’s not an accurate reflection of what our teams are doing,” Weber said. “It’s very difficult to tell where we’re going to land with overall turnover.”

Additionally, a large number of losses each year are teachers who are hired on temporary, one-year contracts. According to Jeffco’s records, 650, 528, and 590 teachers worked on one-year contracts in 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, respectively.

Temporary contracts are common in school districts. They generally are used to hire replacements for teachers on medical or personal leave. They could be positions that were paid for with grant money for a temporary basis, or they could be late summer hires after contracted teachers are already in their permanent positions.

Many are rehired, but are not included in CDE’s reports because state officials do not track this data.

Photo: Todd Shepherd
Photo: Todd Shepherd

“They don’t show up in CDE’s turnover numbers if they come back to the same school,” Weber said.

Witt said the board remains committed to retaining the best teachers for Jeffco students. This year, board members committed an extra $2.4 million to the original $13 million in salary increases after $18 million was spent on raises last year.

Williams said she is proud of the work the board has done to make teacher compensation competitive.

“Under the previous (Board of Education), not only did teachers go without a raise for four years, they took a pay cut. Our current BOE allocated over $34 million in teacher compensation, increased the top pay scale to $81,000, and for the first time, teachers who are effective and highly effective now are also eligible to receive an additional annual stipend.”

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