Mass exodus of school employees sets off alarm

By Bob Paslay

A total of 616 Clayton County School employees, many of them teachers, have left Clayton County for jobs elsewhere in Georgia. The mass exodus at the end of the school year has school board members asking for answers and scrambling to find ways to keep employees in the district.

Board member Connie Kitchens said this is the largest exodus since she has been on the Clayton County Board of Education.

Added Board Chairwoman Ericka Davis, "While there is attrition, this is almost a mass exodus."

With the return of school on Aug. 8 creeping nearer, Board member Lois Baines-Hunter thinks it is a shame if students find substitute teachers in classrooms because enough can't be found.

A total of 113 vacancies still exist, not including openings for bus drivers. The district has about 7,000 vacancies.

While, departing employees are asked to state their reasons for leaving in writing, many opted not to give one according to a list obtained by the News Daily that includes changes from May 16 to June 13 - the period in which employees would return contracts or opt out of coming back.

Those who did say indicated they are being lured away by neighboring school districts in record numbers.

Neighboring Henry County snagged the most - 51. But a breakdown of those leaving show that as many as 30 counties lured away employees.

Fayette and Gwinnett county are both receiving 13 former Clayton employees and another 17 went to Atlanta public schools. Ten went to Fulton schools, 12 to DeKalb County, eight to Cobb County, seven to Coweta County, five to Rockdale County and private schools, two to Forsyth County, three to Douglas County. Eleven are relocating out of state.

Even smaller counties lured employees away from the large Clayton County system. Paulding got four, Meriwether, Cherokee, Pike, and Rabun all got two each. Lamar, Newton, Jasper, Baldwin, Spalding, Barrow, Cook and the cities of Gainesville and Columbus each lured away one employee.

No school in Clayton appeared to be unscathed, although some suffered larger losses than others. School board members are looking for a breakdown of the number leaving from each school and a possible explanation on why some schools have better luck retaining their employees.

A breakdown of those leaving showed 476 are women compared to 140 men. Of the number 320 are white, 288 were African-American and six were Hispanic.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Jackie Hubbert said while the numbers could be seen as "alarming" not all of the vacancies were created by teachers.

Numbers show that 488 certified teachers resigned, including retirements, which Hubbert said adds up to only 15 more vacancies than last year. A total of 85 percent of the teachers in the district are returning according to Hubbert said, but she didn't know how that compares with other metro Atlanta districts.

At Clayton County's new Sequoyah Middle School, principal Shauna Heath said 51 of the needed 66 staff members have been hired, and has openings for math and science teachers.

Hubbert said there are "numerous reasons people leave the system."

Board member Rod Johnson said the district is going to have to look at increasing the pay of employees among ways to retain employees, and feels the need for the district to consider whether employees should be paid every two weeks instead of once a month. He added that signing bonuses also need to be considered.

"Retention is such an important factor, that we will be looking at all options," Hubbert said.

A large number of employees left the district during all the turmoil caused by the firing of former superintendent Dan Colwell and the district's probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The probation was changed to a warning status a year ago and full accreditation was returned last month.

Hubbert said she is optimistic that the vacancies will be filled by the time school starts.

"Principals are interviewing. We have applications in our files. We have had several job fairs this year. Most of these are not positions that have been open all year," Hubbert said. Some principals thought they had the jobs filled only to have late resignations.

"It is our goal to whittle it down completely," Hubbert said. "We do have substitute teachers, but our goal is to replace the vacancies with certified teachers."