Teacher turnover is high as Summit County becomes unaffordable for young families | SummitDaily.com

Teacher turnover is high as Summit County becomes unaffordable for young families

Summit Middle School is pictured on Nov. 12, 2020. Summit Middle School teachers shared their frustrations with the difficulties of finding housing in Summit County.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

While teachers have worked with the Summit School District to negotiate a $50,000 starting salary for the 2022-23 school year, teachers are still struggling to find their footing for another familiar reason: a lack of affordable housing.

When teachers are unable to find an affordable place to settle down, it can drive them out of the county and out of the district. That was the case for former Summit Middle School teacher Katie Greiner.

When Greiner and her husband started to think about buying a home, they had a good idea of what they were looking for. They have a dog, so a yard or some kind of open space was a must, and since it snows so much they wanted a garage as well.

“When we were doing a little bit of house searching it just seemed kind of unfathomable,” Greiner said. “I just felt with those things that we were looking for — it didn’t seem like it was too much to ask, a garage and a small yard seems like a reasonable request when looking for homes — but it felt like everything was $500,000, probably more.”

Greiner and her husband left Summit County to move to Bozeman, Montana, after the end of the 2018-19 school year due to their inability to find an affordable home for sale. She already had family in the area, and the town had the mountain feel they loved. Greiner said housing prices were “much more realistic,” too.

Greiner, who lived in Summit for about five years, is not the only teacher to have left the school district due to a lack of housing. Bethann Huston has worked with the district for over 20 years, and she has only seen teacher turnover grow throughout her time here.

“It’s just that cycle where new teachers come in and, after about three years, they realize it’s just too expensive to raise a family here and go back home,” Huston said. “It’s scary when you see a teacher who has invested time here get kicked out of their rental and then be just nervous wondering ‘Where am I going to live next month, next school year?”’

From the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year, Summit School District lost 42 of its 279 teachers. The district hired 38 new teachers and staffed a total of 275 teachers last school year. That’s a turnover rate of about 15%.

The instructional support staff saw similar turnover with 12 of 49 staff members leaving. Fourteen staff members were hired to replace them last school year. That’s a turnover rate of about 24%.

Across the state, school districts overall saw a teacher turnover rate of 14.35% and an instructional support turnover rate of 24.23%.

Some teachers are still doing whatever they can to stay with the district. Charlie Hosch, a teacher at Summit Middle School and co-president of the Summit County Education Association, found out after two years that his landlord was selling his home in Blue River. He said he and his wife were given ample notice, but even with time there simply weren’t enough options.

Prior to signing a lease in Fairplay — the closest place Hosch could find something for the same price he was paying in Blue River — a friend who lives in Frisco offered to let him and his wife stay with them while they continue their search. Hosch said he struggled more because he has pets.

“It sucks to see so many people struggle to find affordable housing and kind of see the county not making the efforts that we need to be making,” Hosch said. “We’re in a housing crisis that we’re going to continue to see families being lost to, teachers being lost to, frontline workers being lost.”

Huston said she sees many young, married couples leave when they decide it’s time to have kids because it is too expensive to raise a family here.

“We do have a number of young people who are committed to make the sacrifices that it takes to live here, but at a certain point those sacrifices just become too much when they just can’t afford it,” Huston said.

Impacts on education

Huston, an English language development specialist at Summit Middle School, said the teachers who have been able to stick around long term will be eyeing retirement in the coming years, which she said worries her about longevity in the district.

“When we leave, are we going to continue to have that rotating door, or can we build that next generation of teachers who have stuck with the district who know where we’re going and where we’ve been?” Huston said. “People expect great schools and high quality schools, and when teachers are leaving every three to four years all the professional development that we put into them walks out the door with them.”

The Professional Development Center at Summit Middle School in Frisco is pictured on Nov. 12, 2020.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

Huston and Hosch both said it’s unfortunate to see the district invest money in professional development and training for teachers only for them to leave.

“How often the district has to throw money at training new teachers, because teachers can’t afford to stay in the county, is such a travesty when that money can be spent on teacher salaries or programs that provide for teachers to stay in the county,” Hosch said. “It’s tough to keep morale up, especially when you lose a quarter of your work staff every single year.”

Hosch said he thinks the elementary schools have slightly better retention.

“Thankfully there are pockets where we’ve been able to maintain consistency in our staff, and … those certain grade levels or teams that have had that consistency are thriving.” Huston said. “… Those classroom connections, it’s another way we lose when we lose teachers.”

Greiner said she remembers going to high school and having teachers who spent their entire careers with one district, something she said is rare for Summit School District.

“I know that there are teachers there in Summit who can say that, but it felt like it was a very small minority,” Greiner said. “It just felt like it was always kind of a revolving door, and it made it really hard to really put (down) roots as a school community.”

Is there a clear solution?

Huston said she thinks the school board understands teachers’ struggles, and salary negotiations this year were a step in the right direction.

“Of course we can be excellent, but not with a rotating door,” Huston said.

Greiner said she isn’t sure she would have been able to afford the cost of living even with salary increases from the district.

Hosch said it would be great if the Summit Combined Housing Authority partnered with the district to prioritize some kind of housing for teachers. He also emphasized that this isn’t a district problem, it’s a county problem.

He said the district has an internal classified advertising system, most of which is filled with posts by staffers searching for housing.

“The biggest struggle has been out-of-town homeowners selling their houses because of the market and leaving teachers high and dry to find new housing, where some of them have been in for five to 10 years,” Hosch said.

Hosch said most of his coworkers, himself included, work more than one job to stay afloat.

“It comes with the territory of living up here unfortunately,” Hosch said. “We just have to take on more than just the role of a teacher to be able to afford a living.”

To Hosch, finding a way to increase teacher retention is of the utmost importance for the students.

“They need consistency; they need predictability,” Hosch said. “Teachers need to be able to stay here and continue to develop themselves within a certain district’s philosophy, and when we turnover teachers that often that philosophy gets diminished every year.”

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