Prospects for a shorter commute are tough to compete with, superintendent says
The Crookston School Board this week accepted, reluctantly, the resignation of another teacher, which has become a common practice over the past couple of summers. The latest teacher, third-grade instructor Betsey McIntyre – judging by the comments of board members – appeared to have made a particularly good impression during her three years teaching in the district.
"She's been a great member of our faculty for three years; it's hard to lose a promising young teacher like that," board member Dave Davidson said. "I hope she is happy in her new position."
Board Chair Frank Fee said he assumed all board members would agree with Davidson's assessment. "She was involved in other things beyond the classroom, too," Fee said of McIntyre, who's taken a teaching position in Grand Forks.
Still, Bates took some time at this week's meeting, and also in comments to the Times afterward, to address the notion that the local public school system seems to have a particularly hard time retaining young teachers and administrators.
Professionals, young and even no so young, are more mobile than ever, Bates said, so the "perfect world" that has young, talented teachers and administrators staying in one place for a long time is more elusive than ever.
But that doesn't mean Crookston schools are taking a particularly harder hit to the chin than others. Minnesota Department of Education statistics shows that, statewide, school districts have an average of 63.8 percent of teachers on staff who have been there more than 10 years. Crookston's percentage in that category is 65.8 percent, Bates said. Simply put, he said, it means around two-thirds of teachers stick around and one-third move on.
Of the local district's 96 teachers and 12 administrators, Bates said the board can typically count on three dozen of them to be "somewhat transient." With teachers and administrators as salary motivated as anyone would be in just about any other profession, he said the average "window to leave" is around six years. Add in retirements, and that means Crookston has around six to nine positions to fill a year.
Bates said the staff turnover this year was tied to a couple retirements, and a couple of spouses who relocated. But the Crookston district's biggest challenge is travel, or the commute. "Three good people were lost because, despite the charms and magnetic personalities of all who work here, a 50 to 90-mile journey every day to travel to Crookston is hard to compete with," he said. "It is the time and cost of that travel that starts to plant the seeds of relocation."
Crookston community leaders are trying hard to fight that trend with more housing options and more community amenities, Bates said, and the district is thankful for those efforts. But, still, he added, even the most loyal employees are at least tempted when the possibility of having to travel less to and from work is presented.
So while staff turnover may be a problem in Crookston, Bates isn't sure if it isn't a problem in many other districts similar to Crookston. The fact that applicant pools for open positions in recent years seem to be shallower than ever is probably heightening the profile of the staff turnover issue, he said.
"Certainly I hurt and we all hurt when we lose good employees, and certainly we need to constantly strive to improve what we do at ISD 593," Bates said. "We want what is best for our kids and in our profession that usually means good people."