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School districts plan to use Oregon grant money on retention bonuses, training for teachers

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Arden Barnes
/
Report for America/Herald and News
In this 2021 file photo, Mrs. Watterberg explains the schedule to her fifth-graders during morning announcements on the first day of school at Shasta Elementary in the Klamath County School District. The district is one of many ireceiving state grant funds to recruit and retain staff.

Legislation provides $78 million dollars in grant funding to school districts across Oregon to use on teacher recruitment and retention.

With the Oregon school year over, HR departments are busy making sure they have the teachers and other staff needed for the first day of school two months from now. This summer, they’re getting a little help from the state.

In the McMinnville School District, Human Resources Director Steffanie Frost says the district’s retention rate is usually between 93% to 95%. That’s no longer the case.

“We have noticed the last two years that rate has dipped below 90%,” Frost said.

But Frost and other school officials across Oregon have access to grant funds to help retain current staff and recruit new staff.

Legislators passed House Bill 4030 in the 2022 session, allocating $78 million to Oregon school districts, charter schools, and education service districts to pay for the grants.

The Oregon Department of Education received 266 applications for the grant funds. As of June 28, 220 were approved, with 46 requiring additional clarifications.

The legislation includes $22 million for other education programs, including a workforce data system and money to reimburse substitute teachers for training.

In McMinnville, Frost said a staff survey directed the district’s funding plan to spend its $854,147 in HB4030 funds.

“What we identified as our first problem of practice... was feeling overwhelmed, burned out, not able to meet the students needs and balance their own needs, which causes a lower staff retention rate, higher rate of burnout, more people wanting to retire because they just don’t want to do it anymore,” Frost said.

To respond to that, the district plans to use its grant and other funding sources to offer staff retention bonuses, as well as money to every school district building to spend on employee wellness.

Other funds will focus on hard-to-fill positions, including bilingual and special education staff.

ODE required school district grants to fall under several broad parameters. Districts can spend funds on diversifying its workforce, reducing burnout, and training.

Klamath County School District will use its $956,589 to hire four part-time mentors for new teachers and invest in professional development for certified and classified staff.

Beaverton will focus some of its $5 million in funds on paid training for substitute teachers and educational assistants. Beaverton’s executive director for strategic initiatives David Williams said training for subs will help support those staff members as well as the teachers they’re covering for, by ensuring that classrooms will be led by a trained substitute.

“We’re providing upfront training... so that our educational assistants, our paraeducators, feel like they’re adequately trained and able to manage those circumstances, particularly in these areas where students are high needs,” Williams said.

Like McMinnville, the district is using some of its funds on retention bonuses. That includes a $1,000 retention bonus to certified employees for this coming school year.

In Beaverton, HB 4030-funded retention efforts extend beyond the classroom. Williams said the district is working on “targeted pay adjustments” for transportation and nutrition service workers to better support them.

“We’re recognizing that there’s a workforce challenge across the system and we’re trying to respond to that,” he said.

But officials say the grant funds provided by House Bill 4030 are not a long-term solution.

“You’re not going to drive systemic change on a one-year grant,” Williams said.

In McMinnville, Frost said the district is continuing its work.

“Long-term, it will help us retain people,” Frost said.

“I don’t think it addresses a problem we already have of, there’s not enough people in the field of education to start with, especially in these specialty areas.”

That’s why McMinnville is a part of the Mid-Willamette Education Consortium, which includes more than 20 other school districts and community colleges. Frost said creative thinking, nontraditional programs, and more university recruitment are a few tools groups can use to help solve school staffing issues.

“We didn’t get here overnight, we didn’t end up with this workforce shortage overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Miller