Consultant says APSB must address teacher shortage, pay issues

School Board doing best it can with limited resources

Although the Avoyelles Parish School Board has invested its economic and personnel resources to make some improvements in the public school system, it is in need of more resources to address significant problems plaguing the district, a private consultant concluded in a grant-funded study.

APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told School Board members Aug. 1 that Education Resource Strategies (ERS) reported the district is doing the best it can with the resources it has, but noted more needs to be spent to address the parish’s teacher shortage and to help struggling students catch up to their classmates.

“This report is encouraging and discouraging,” Dauzat told board members. “We have made great strides in improving ELA (English Language Arts) scores, but math scores are still the same. We use our resources wisely, yet our biggest problem is a teacher shortage and pay."

The study was funded by a grant from the Louisiana Department of Education.

ERS is a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that seeks to help school systems better organize and use their resources of people, time, technology and money so that every school succeeds for every student.

ERS noted three needs for the School Board to consider:

• Increase teacher salaries to address the critical teacher shortage.
• Realign schedules and staffing practices, so struggling students could receive more time and attention in core subject areas.
• Roll out guidance and rubrics to help teachers optimize the district’s investment in time for teacher collaboration.

Dauzat praised the district’s teachers, but criticized people who claim the school system is wasting tax dollars.

“There are some critical investments that Avoyelles Parish has made that help to improve student performance,” Dauzat said. “For example, we have invested to increase the rigor of curriculum and to develop teachers and principals. And we have created flexibility for schools to staff and schedule to address specific school needs,” Dauzat read from the report. “These investments have contributed to recent improvements in ELA results, though performance continues to lag peers, while math performance has not shown improvement.”

The report found several factors contribute to the teacher shortage.

The parish receives less than one qualified applicant per open teaching position. That causes many positions to remain open or to be filled by “crisis” substitutes. Even when positions are filled by certified teachers, 25 percent of new hires enter Avoyelles on emergency credentials, Dauzat said.

“They have a very high teacher turnover rate - 24 percent – which is almost twice as high as the state average (13 percent) and also higher than peer (surrounding) districts (15 percent),” he continued. “These turnover and recruitment challenges exist in part because teacher compensation in Avoyelles is significantly lower than teacher salaries in all surrounding districts,” Dauzat read.

The report found that more than half of teachers who leave Avoyelles transfer to Rapides Parish schools, where the base salary of teachers is $7,000 to $8,000 more per year.

“The teacher shortage and high turnover combine to create a profound, negative impact on overall student performance and on the district’s ability to develop its workforce,” Dauzat recited from the report.

One of the concluding statements in the report dealt with the “clear case for the need to increase funding.”

“We are getting by with the hard-working teachers we have, but the resources we need are the lowest in the state and the area,” Dauzat told the board.

Dauzat then said he is tired of the criticism certain people and certain members of the media give the school system for not performing as well as districts with more resources.

If another charter school is allowed to open, the school system would have even fewer resources, Dauzat added.

“Our teachers in this parish deserve better,” an upset Dauzat said. “Yet we are beaten down by certain citizens and the media. We could be better if we had the resources to hire more highly qualified teachers. All teachers have to do is cross the border into Rapides Parish and they can make $8,000 more a year.”

Voters defeated a 1-cent sales tax last year that would have provided a $5,500 a year pay raise for teachers.

Dauzat said he is proud of the parish’s teachers and pointed out several teachers for their extra efforts to make their classrooms better for students.

Those teachers could easily go to another parish and make more money, but they have decided to stay and teach in Avoyelles, he said.

“This report is clear evidence that Avoyelles Parish needs additional resources, including more qualified teachers, to succeed,” Dauzat said. “We are trying to make things better for the students.”

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