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Schools see high teacher turnover

Suffolk Public Schools experienced its highest teacher turnover rate in at least six years this summer.

According to numbers provided by Suffolk Public Schools spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw, 160 teachers — about 15 percent of the workforce — resigned their positions this year.

The division’s next highest turnover rate in recent years happened after the 2013-14 school year, when 13 percent of teachers resigned and an additional 2 percent retired.

Teachers are not required to say why they are resigning, and most don’t. But the school division does track the reasons given.

As of June 28, only three teachers had said they were leaving for another district. The most common reason at that point in the summer, among those who gave a reason, was relocation to another area of the country. Military spouses whose servicemember had been transferred, a separate category from simple relocation, was the second most common reason.

About 35 teachers, or 3 percent, retired from Suffolk Public Schools at the end of last school year.

Other nearby divisions did better on teacher turnover this year. Chesapeake Public Schools, one of the biggest competitors for teachers from Suffolk, had an average teacher turnover rate of 6.5 percent the last two years. That’s half Suffolk’s rate this year.

The specter of a huge teacher exodus was raised in the spring, when an uproar ensued over the proposed budget.

The original plan was the boost the lower levels of the pay scale to aid recruitment efforts, but the School Board ended up giving a 2.5-percent across-the-board raise. That decision came after the revelation that a 14-percent raise for Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney in the budget had already been approved by the School Board in a closed meeting last fall and implemented retroactively to July.

Bradshaw said the division currently has about 25 vacancies as it prepares for the start of school this week.

“We will start the school year with qualified substitutes until vacancies are filled,” she wrote in an email.

Bradshaw added that interviews are ongoing to fill the vacancies, which number about the same as at the opening of school last year.

The division is pulling out all the stops to attract teachers to work.

“We are looking at developing and implementing new incentive and training programs to attract more teachers,” Bradshaw wrote. “We are working with local colleges and universities in an effort to attract teachers to SPS.”

Other nearby divisions have fewer vacancies to start the year, too.

Chesapeake Public Schools has 19 positions to fill, about half of which are in special education, spokeswoman Kellie Goral said.

Isle of Wight County Schools, another nearby competitor for teachers, has three teacher vacancies, spokeswoman Lynn Briggs said.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools is starting the school year with six vacancies among its 5,100 teacher positions, spokeswoman Eileen Cox said. More than 600 teachers were hired over the summer.

Cox noted many Virginia Beach teachers are military spouses and said retirements and people relocating out of Hampton Roads accounted for most of the vacancies.