Teachers leaving the Baraboo School District over the last few years has turned into an “exodus” that other nearby schools aren’t experiencing, a former Baraboo teacher told the school board Monday.
“Currently in Baraboo schools, there are way too many missing faces year after year,” said Michael Scherck, a Baraboo resident, during the board’s public comment period. “Favorite teachers are no longer around, and students are undoubtedly asking why.”
Scherck taught for 35 years in the Baraboo School District, retiring in 2010.
This month, he requested certified staff turnover rates from five districts: Baraboo, Portage, Reedsburg, Sauk Prairie and Wisconsin Dells.
The results showed Baraboo lost more than double the number of teachers since last year — 48, which was almost 20% of its staff — than any of the other districts. Portage had the second-highest number with 20 staff members leaving after the 2018-19 school year. The percentage of total teachers that represents was not readily available. Wisconsin Dells lost 14, or almost 10% of its staff, and Reedsburg lost 10 teachers, or less than 5%.
“I care about this place which I have proudly called home for the past 44 years, and I am also worried about the state of my former profession,” Scherck said. “The exodus of certified staff from this district concerns me greatly.”
He said the reasons sometimes cited during board meetings to explain resignations — such as Act 10, which eliminated most teachers union rights in 2011, and commuting issues — couldn’t fully explain why Baraboo has struggled more than other area districts to retain staff. He also pointed to Baraboo’s higher turnover for the last three years, not just last year. The district lost 22 certified staff members after 2017-18 and 32 in 2016-17.
Staff morale, he said, plays a role.
“What exactly does a demoralized staff look like in Baraboo? First, teachers feel disrespected, mistrusted and even bullied, which incidentally is how I felt the past few days after receiving the district’s initial responses denying my (records) request,” Scherck said.
District Administrator Lori Mueller denied the request initially based on the fact that the district didn’t compile turnover numbers.
“The Public Records Law addresses requests for records, not for information,” Mueller wrote in a letter to Scherck dated Sept. 17. “As a result the law does not require the District to provide requested information if no record exists. The law also does not require the District to create new records by extracting and compiling information from existing records in a new format.”
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None of the other districts denied Scherck’s request, he said.
After Scherck contacted the Baraboo district again and spoke with multiple school board members, Mueller compiled the information and sent it to him via email on Saturday.
Mueller earlier this year declined a request for turnover numbers from the Baraboo News Republic.
Scherck listed other reasons teachers have for leaving, including feeling they don’t have support when it comes to dealing with student behavior issues, feeling overworked and underappreciated and fearing reprisal “in the form of investigations and letters of reprimand being placed in their files.”
He referenced a staff survey, conducted this spring and presented to the board June 24, which showed less than half of the staff who responded were satisfied with their pay and roughly 40% thought their pay is fair. Baraboo’s average to those questions was below that of similar schools, according to the survey.
The district’s new strategic plan includes a focus on staff retention.
Scherck urged the school board to talk with staff for themselves and consider contracting with a third party to conduct exit interviews with former employees.
“As we all know, there are many education detractors in this community. Don’t take for granted your most loyal supporters and voters by continuing to ignore these turnover concerns,” he said. “I am here this evening because I care. I want teachers to have the same overall positive experience as I have had in this community. I also want them to have pride in this school district, like I do. It’s up to you to make this happen by finding out what is going on.”
School Board President Kevin Vodak noted that because it was not a topic on the agenda, the board couldn’t discuss Scherck’s concerns, but he directed the Personnel Committee to look into it and work with district administrators to make sure turnover doesn’t continue to be an issue.
“It’s not acceptable,” Vodak said. “I can’t speak for the other six board members here, but I have a pretty good sense that this isn’t acceptable to them, and whatever it is that the district can do that is within our control, I’d like to pursue that.”