Making Stafford’s teachers a priority
By Michael Sudhalter
Stafford Municipal School District superintendent Dr. Robert Bostic inherited a challenge when he arrived in June from Denton ISD.
Luckily, for Stafford ISD teachers, local residents and students, he’s taking the district staff’s 23 percent turnover rate seriously and has already taken steps to address it.
Bostic presides over a district that has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges during its history. It took six years just for SMSD to become a district, in 1982.
Relative to that challenge, this one isn’t as large, but that shouldn’t minimize it either.
The SMSD board approved a 3 percent raise for all staff in June, over the objections of some board members who wanted to give staff a larger raise.
Bostic told The Star in June that a 4 percent salary increase would cost the district $740,000 more.
“If we could afford more, we’d propose more,” Bostic said.
When one looks at the starting salary of a SMSD teacher ($48,190), it’s not that different than a first-year Fort Bend ISD teacher ($50,000).
But by the fifth year, a Stafford teacher with a bachelor’s degree would make $49,173 while their FBISD counterpart would make $52,500 – a wider gulf. FBISD is more than 17 times larger than SMSD.
Districts in similar size to Stafford are usually located in relatively rural areas, rather than smack dab in the middle of Houston and Sugar Land, which poses another challenge to SMSD.
Bostic said there are things the district can control, beyond financials, to make the district attractive to teachers.
“Morale is one of the things, and community building (is another),” Bostic said. “We focus on the people we have and know our people by name.”
When prospective teachers graduate from college, they often have few concerns aside from the scourge that is student loans.
Although it’s less than a $2,000 difference, there’s something much more attractive about the round number of $50,000. But if they consider the option of working in a smaller district where everyone knows your name, it’s not an issue.
But enter Year 5, when that prospective teacher is 27 or 28 years old. There’s a higher probability that said teacher will be married, have a child or two, and own a home instead of renting an apartment.
At that point, every penny of the $3,400 makes a difference, and that’s the challenge that SMSD faces.
There are no easier answers.
SMSD (and other school districts) also face the challenge of the private sector. A robust economy, such as the one in Fort Bend (and Greater Houston) produces more opportunities for talented people.
A science teacher could potentially double his or her teaching salary by going into the Oil & Gas Industry.
There’s no way to compete with that, but emphasizing the quality of life aspect that Dr. Bostic stressed would be a key step toward trying.
In my conversation with Dr. Bostic, I brought up a personal experience in which I taught Journalism and Communications at a small charter school in the Houston area.
About half of the teachers at the school, including myself, were new to the profession.
In my opinion, those teachers were productive because they were hungry and full of energy.
If the pattern continued, and that school served as something of a farm system to larger public school system that paid more, it’s all good, right?
Not so, said the man equipped with a doctorate in Education.
“The veteran teachers have the culture, institutional knowledge,” said Bostic, noting that SMSD has a lot of veteran teachers at the present time.
I wasn’t a teacher for long, but my mother’s been in the profession for more than 40 years. I’ve seen her wake up at 6 a.m. and return 6 p.m., only to correct papers after dinner.
In an ideal world, it would be cool if the community could create a charity fund that would provide extra pay for teachers.
That’s not realistic, but there are other ways the community can rally around its teachers.
Provide discounts on apartments, restaurants and other businesses.
Create a program where community volunteers can assist in clean up projects or help beautify the school, so those costs can be re-allocated toward teacher pay.
Dr. Bostic shared with me that teachers are the district’s second-most important resource, after the obvious top priority, the students.
In this case, the top two priorities are inextricably linked.
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