Why do we need a teacher recruitment and retention plan? To become a pre-eminent school district, we must be able to attract and keep great teachers in a highly competitive environment. How do we create the plan? Teachers know what it takes to attract good teachers, so they need to be an equal partner with the superintendent, school board, administrators and others in designing and implementing the plan for the coming years.
According to a California County Superintendents Educational Services Association research study from 2017, a strong and viable teacher’s union and shared decision-making between equal partners that involves the whole community makes for the best school districts. “More than anything, we need the active participation of teachers to design and implement an effective plan to recruit and retain teachers.”
A weak and divided group of teachers is a symptom of a school district in decline. Power abhors a vacuum. If teachers have little power to achieve their goals, power will shift to the superintendent, administrators and the school board. A top-down model in which administrators dictate policies and procedures to teachers is merely the flip side of a weak group of teachers that is unable to achieve common goals.
Once there is a gross imbalance in power, the teachers’ group will be forced into a position of virtual subservience and silence. Teachers will lose their capacity to advocate effectively both for each other and for students. It isn’t a question of whether power will be exercised. It’s only a question of who will exercise power and for what purpose. In itself, power is not harmful. It’s the way power is exercised that can create or destroy a healthy work environment. Rather than exercising power as a dominance of one group over another, the exercise of shared power between different groups will allow for the development of respect, cooperation and trust.
A weak and divided group of teachers will be forced to beg for respect, rights and fair compensation. They will be forced to beg for those things that contribute to student academic achievement and success. In this case, it is not uncommon for the normal process of collective bargaining to be undermined by the imbalance of power. For example, teacher leaders may be lured into making disadvantageous side deals out of weakness. In another example, a group of teachers may decide not to participate in a school board election in the mistaken belief that choosing sides, even the side of pro-teacher candidates, will create a rift with the superintendent and school board. In an extreme case, a powerful superintendent may actually manipulate a teacher’s union election to place his or her chosen people in leadership positions.
These developments only worsen the union’s position of subservience, silence and lack of power. As the position of the union declines, it will become increasingly difficult to improve wages and working conditions for teachers. Student success will suffer. This leads to a downward spiral in which many good teachers leave for better school districts and new teachers will be reluctant to come to the district. Consequently, a weak and divided teacher’s union contributes to the overall decline of the school district.
We recognize that demographic changes are reshaping schools in California. There is a chronic decline in enrollment throughout the state related to the increasing cost of living and low wages. Teachers cannot afford to live in many communities. For example, teachers in our district are paid about $20,000 less than the statewide average for employees. Yet the cost of housing keeps rising. Many teachers are working two or three jobs to survive. This is unsustainable. There are about one thousand school districts in California. Forty of them are in Sonoma County and they are all competing for the same pool of teachers.
If we cannot create a plan to recruit and retain teachers in our district over the coming decades, our district will decline beyond any hope of recovery. Declining enrollment means declining budgets. We will face many tough choices including closing schools and laying off employees. A successful recruitment and retention plan must have a strong teacher’s union at its heart. Further, the other two unions in our district must be equally as strong as the teacher’s union since the three unions are closely related in many ways.
Here is the bottom line. We must come together as a school district to attract and keep highly qualified teachers. We can’t hope for things to get better. We need a plan. We need everyone to contribute to its creation. But, most importantly, to become a pre-eminent district, the teacher’s union must be an equal partner with the administration and the school board in the development and implementation of a long-range plan to recruit and retain good and great teachers.
Dr. Timothy Nonn
Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Trustee