Aurora Public Schools officials want their principals to think twice before hiring a teacher from another district school after the school year starts.
Many school districts have agreements with their teachers union limiting when teachers can switch schools. But in Aurora, an inner-ring suburban school district that has struggled with higher than average teacher turnover for years, it’s been a free-for-all.
So in an unusual policy shift put in place this school year, Aurora principals who hire away a teacher from another district school after Nov. 1 must give up $10,000 from their school budget.
The money, which principals may pull together from a variety of funding streams, is then transferred to school that lost the teacher to be used for long-term substitutes or training new hires, said Damon Smith, Aurora’s chief personnel officer.
Teacher transfers within the district after the start of the school year often cause a troubling chain reaction that can leave multiple classrooms without skilled educators, officials said.
“Thousands of students have been impacted by this,” Smith said. “This isn’t something that was crafted yesterday. There have been conversations for a few years now.”
For the last five years, about 50 APS teachers have moved between schools each year after the start of the school year. Coupled with a shrinking teacher pool with fewer qualified candidates, principals face a heavier lift to find exceptional teachers who want to be in some of the state’s most at-risk classrooms.
“When you’re hiring this late into the year, you’re almost always hiring a new teacher,” said Ramone Carson, principal of Wheeling Elementary School. “You’re getting someone not ready for the job. It takes a long time to get that person up to speed.”
Carson has lost two teachers to other school districts or professions so far this year. In years past, he’s lost teachers to and recruited from other Aurora schools.
“I probably did fall into that gray area of poaching,” Carson said. “But it’s something I think about now — the ethics, the teamwork aspect of being one district.”
Carson said he made the decision not to hire teachers from other district schools after the start of the school year a few years ago. The fee, he said, has reinforced that commitment.
“I wouldn’t have half that,” he said referring to the $10,000 fee. “It would be a nonstarter.”
Earlier this year, second-grade teacher Tanis Humes applied for an opening at another district school that she said would have been a “step forward professionally.” But if she had known about the financial impact on the school she was planning to leave, she never would have applied, she said.
“I know money is tight in schools,” Humes said. “I wouldn’t have put any school in this position.”
Humes didn’t get the transfer, and last week left Aurora for a position at Denver Public Schools’ central office.
Smith said the district has not decided whether the policy will be in place next year. The issue of teacher transfers after the school year could become a bargaining conversation with the city’s teachers union.
For the time being, the union is neutral toward the policy.
Amy Nichols, president of the Aurora Education Association, said she empathizes with schools and students when a teacher transfers.
“The substitutes are going to require a lot more support,” she said. “We just want to make sure every teacher in the district has an equal opportunity to apply for a transfer.”
Teachers who substitute in Aurora must have a bachelor’s degree and hold a substitute license from the Colorado Department of Education. Substitutes filling in for longer time periods — multiple weeks or months — must also be highly qualified in the subject they’re teaching.
But at Wheeling Elementary, that doesn’t mean the substitute will be prepared to plan lessons or teach specialized curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate program, Carson said.
Sandi Jacobs, senior vice president for state and district policy at the National Council on Teacher Quality, said Aurora’s approach to curb transfers is unique.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” she said. “It seems like a double-edged sword.”
While curbing disruptive transfers is a step in the right direction, she worries that low-performing schools might not be able to hire the most qualified candidates if that teacher comes with a $10,000 price tag.
She encouraged Aurora and other school districts facing similar turnover issues to systematically change their hiring practices.
“Districts are certainly competing with their neighbors,” she said. “The districts that are more proactive and organized are really going to have an advantage.”
APS has taken steps to fill vacancies earlier, including moving up its hiring period from late spring to February.
Partnerships with local teacher prep programs, including the Boettcher Teacher Residency, also are paying off, Carson said. The fellowship partners aspiring teachers who are earning master’s degrees with experienced classroom teachers for a year.
Smith, the district’s personnel officer, stressed the fee isn’t aimed to deterring principals from hiring the best candidates. But something must be done, he said, to minimize disruption as schools struggling to find and keep the teachers they need.
“It all comes back to the impact on the student in the classroom,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge. It’s incumbent upon all school districts to make sure they have quality teachers in the classroom and that we’re not raiding the cupboards of our friends.”