Lets first process the numbers, before we commence with the inevitable spin.
In 2011-12, 1,884 Idaho teachers left the profession. Idaho had 17,851 certified teachers in 2011-12. In other words, this is more than a 10 percent turnover.
That should be a wakeup call. We should all at least be able to agree that recruiting and retaining quality teachers is the key to a quality education. Losing more than a tenth of the teaching workforce isnt how you get it done.
But in the bitter debate over the future of public education, the teacher turnover numbers have, predictably, become a choice talking point.
The Idaho Education Association blames the growing exodus on state schools superintendent Tom Luna and his Students Come First K-12 overhaul. Lunas office blames much of the turnover on the recession.
The reasons matter, of course. And guess what? Its complicated.
The state Education Department says more than half of the departures fall under the broad heading of personal reasons which includes everything from retirement and maternity leave to taking a job in school administration or the private sector.
Is this partly a matter of demographics an aging workforce? No question about that. Could discontent with the Students Come First laws drive teachers to retire or take a private sector job? Sure. But when Idaho has been suffering through a downturn, as Luna reasonably notes, could large numbers of teachers really flee the classrooms for new jobs?
Now, heres another interesting number from the Education Department: Only 51 teachers left Idaho for a teaching job in another state. (The annual average, for the four preceding years, is 140.5.) These low numbers would seem to disprove the suggestion that Idaho is a training ground thats loses good teachers to neighboring states that offer better salaries.
But heres an unsettling fact. In 2011-12, 143 teachers were layoff victims a five-year high, and the average the four preceding years was 57.8. The layoff numbers are modest as well, but they are heading in the wrong direction.
This trend cant be surprising. Not when Idahos K-12 budget still languishes below prerecession numbers, when school districts have depleted one-time federal stimulus dollars, and when many districts have been forced to seek voter-approved property tax levies to plug the gaps. Some districts have been able to keep their staffs whole. Others havent.
And how many teachers based their personal moves on local funding woes? How many experienced teachers looked at the numbers and decided to retire early? How many star instructors got fed up and took their talents to the private sector? Well never know.
This we do know. Over the past two years, 3,160 teachers left the classroom, an annual average of 1,580. In the three preceding years, the annual average was 766.7. Some of this is inevitable, and a reflection of an aging workforce, but this is a troubling trend.
The Students Come First elections and the debate over teacher merit pay bring this issue into focus. But if we dont also pay attention to fundamental issues of school funding, were sleeping through the wakeup call.
MELALEUCA AS BAD COP
Melaleuca Inc. took out another full-page ad in the Statesman on Sunday again suggesting that the teachers union is jeopardizing $38 million in teacher bonuses by opposing Students Come First.
Two things jump out:
The ad says the $38 million in bonuses are mired in legal uncertainty even though the bonuses were funded by the 2012 Legislature.
The question is in the timing, as the ad accurately notes: Voters will decide on the three laws Nov. 6, districts will get the bonus payments on Nov. 15, election results will be certified on Nov. 21, and districts must pay out bonuses by Dec. 15. The ad does not note that Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, the states go-to source on election law, has said that the bonuses can be awarded as planned on Nov. 15, since the merit pay law will be on the books no matter how voters decide on the Nov. 6 referendums. Luna has sought a legal opinion.
But in the ad, Melaleuca makes a none-too-subtle pitch, especially to teachers: Ratify the merit-pay law and all the uncertainty goes away. A yes vote on Proposition 2 (the merit-pay law) leaves nothing in question. With a yes vote, deserving teachers will receive their bonuses now and in the future. That is how it should be.
You cant accuse Melaleuca of being coy.
The Melaleuca ad again trots out an old claim: Luna was the victim of union thuggery during his campaign to get his bills through the 2011 Legislature. The ad features a large photo of Lunas vandalized truck, and says this of the 2011 debate. In typical union style, it got ugly!
A fairly clear insinuation. Here are the facts. The vandalism case was never solved and no one was cited.
All in all, Melaleuca plays bad cop on Lunas behalf.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437, Twitter: @KevinRichert