July 10, 2019 10:17:31 AM
Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Superintendent Eddie Peasant will begin researching if the district can afford to pay secondary math teachers an annual stipend, something he says will help with low teacher retention in the subject.
Peasant told SOCSD board members during Tuesday's regular meeting that math teachers for grades seven to 12 are currently the hardest to retain in the district, but did not offer specific figures on turnover and vacancies for that position. They are going elsewhere because of higher pay rates and signing bonuses available to them in other districts, he said.
"One of our high school teachers accepted a position (in the district) and then declined it because they received a $3,000 signing bonus at another district," he said. "That's why I want to look at a plan to create a stipend for these teachers. ... This is an issue that's only going to grow. It's hard to compete with our neighbors."
Columbus Municipal School District is one that offers a $3,000 signing bonus to incoming math and science teachers, an initiative it began this school year.
Rather than offer a one-time signing bonus, though, Peasant will consider offering a consistent stipend -- ideally funded by federal dollars -- to math teachers at the end of each school year for three years, he said.
"Teachers would know that is the amount they will receive and that they will receive it over a period of three years," he said. "Over three years, that will eclipse the amount offered at neighboring districts."
At the end of the three-year period, Peasant said he would look at teacher retention and determine if the stipend contributed to a decline in teacher turnover.
The board did not vote on the matter, though several members voiced their approval of the idea.
"The main thing we'll be looking at is the cost of the stipend," Peasant told The Dispatch after the meeting. "How much it can be or should be. ... We're just wanting to attract, hire and retain quality teachers. Math is an area of shortage in this state and in the district and we feel like putting something in place to attract those teachers is important."
Board Vice President Debra Prince said, though the board did not need to vote for Peasant to begin his research, she was "interested" in the idea.
"If it's something to assist with retention, I think it's worth seeing what we can do," she said.
Possibility of expansion
If the annual stipend for math teachers shows results, Peasant and the board may consider expanding it to incentivize teachers across the district.
Most specifically, Prince said, she would like to consider paying a similar stipend to teachers at Armstrong Middle School, the only school in the district with climbing teacher turnover rates. At the end of the 2018-19 school year, 28 teachers left Armstrong Middle School, according to numbers provided by the district to The Dispatch, though subject matter was neither requested nor specified in those documents. The year before, 17 teachers did not renew their contracts.
"If we see it working in one arena, I definitely think there's something there for Armstrong," Prince said.
Peasant said that supplemental pay or an annual stipend to Armstrong teachers is something he wants to consider, but only after the Partnership School with Mississippi State University -- a campus intended for grades 6-7 expected to open in fall 2020 -- is open and operational.
"I think our ideas of taking burdens off teachers with this school will work out," he said. "But they're still middle school kids, and it is worth looking at giving incentives to the teachers there."
Board President John Brown asked Peasant if math is the only subject where teachers are in short supply. While science and special education teachers are also topping the list of teachers SOCSD needs to hire and retain, Peasant said math remains the area that is most lacking.
"Math is a difficult subject to learn and to teach," he told The Dispatch. "While we do also need qualified science and special education teachers, our main focus is on math in seventh through 12th grades. ... Things like (an annual stipend) help potential teachers understand the need and, we hope, will help fill the shortage."
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