A looming teacher shortage is prompting Hartford Public Schools to retain and hire teachers.
By using Covid-19 relief and general funds, the district is investing in its staff, offering increased incentives and stipends for educators, support staff, and summer programming employees.
“First of all, this is really a way to thank those teachers for their efforts throughout the year,” said Jesse Sugarman, senior advisor for Strategy & Institutional Advancement.
What was once a $250 end-of-year incentive is now $750, an increase of 200%. Part-time employees are getting an extra $150 at the end of the school year.
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"It's about our overall strategy; the strategy of retention and recruitment of high-quality teachers so they can serve our students,” said Sugarman.
Hartford Public High School teacher Sara Marie Rosati supports the initiative. Every day she works with students in ninth through 12th grade with learning differences.
"Obviously, the incentives are fantastic, it's definitely something to look forward to. But, I also think it shows that we want to get people in the city,” said Rosati.
In November, Hartford Public Schools told NBC Connecticut there were 150 open jobs in the district. As of Tuesday, nearly 75% of those positions have been filled.
"We’re starting to get an understanding of the teachers that will be returning next year, so that’s why this is really important,” said Sugarman. “Retention is going to be an issue for us and recruitment is going to be an issue for all districts."
Kate Dias, president of CEA, Connecticut’s largest education association, said it is a highly competitive environment for schools across the state, and districts are recognizing that they need to pay more.
“I think teachers are really looking at the balance of expectations versus the time it takes to accomplish those goals,” said Dias. “We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the workforce and expectations in the last two years; the management of student concerns, their trauma, their stresses.”
Education leaders like Dias are trying to develop a recruitment and retention task force, or Senate Bill 427, which is already in the hands of Connecticut lawmakers.
"It has never been more important than now to support our school-based staff. The professionals in our schools have made it clear they feel overworked and underappreciated," said Carol Gale, Hartford Federation of Teachers President.
"Hartford Public Schools recently responded with incentives. These incentives are appreciated, and they should have been equal across job categories. HFT values all the professionals that work in our schools," Gale said.
Hartford schools are also incentivizing teachers to keep growing the school's professional community by offering between $500 and $1,500 for employee referrals. The district is also paying $500 to $1,000 for returning employees.
"We want them to feel motivated and compensated for going out and connecting with their networks recruiting new teachers, new staff, and personnel to the district,” said Sugarman.
Some teachers will also get $250 to help them decorate and improve their learning spaces, a big investment paid for out of the Covid-relief dollars. Summer school staff can expect to receive a $300 increase in their stipends.