School districts plan to use Oregon grant money for retention bonuses and teacher training

With the Oregon school year over, human resources departments are scrambling to make sure they have the teachers and other staff they need for the first day of school in two months. This summer, they are receiving a little help from the state.

In the McMinnville School District, human resources director Steffanie Frost says the district’s retention rate is typically between 93% and 95%. This is no longer the case.

“We’ve noticed over the last two years that the rate has dropped below 90%,” Frost said.

But Frost and other Oregon school officials have access to grants to help retain current staff and recruit new employees.

Lawmakers passed House Bill 4030 in the 2022 session, allocating $78 million to Oregon school districts, charter schools and educational service districts to pay for the grants.

The Oregon Department of Education received 266 grant applications. As of June 28, 220 had been approved, with 46 requiring further clarification.

The legislation includes $22 million for other education programs, including a workforce data system and funds to reimburse substitute teachers for training.

In McMinnville, Frost said a staff survey directed the district fundraising plan to spend its $854,147 in HB4030 funds.

“What we identified as our number one practice issue…was feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, unable to meet student needs and balance their own needs, resulting in lower staff retention, a higher burnout rate, more people wanting to retire because they just don’t want to anymore,” Frost said.

To address this, the district plans to use its grant and other funding sources to provide staff retention bonuses, as well as money to each building in the school district to spend on employee welfare. .

Other funds will focus on hard-to-fill positions, including bilingual staff and special education.

The ODE required school district grants to fall within several broad parameters. Districts can dedicate funds to diversifying their workforce, reducing burnout, and training.

The Klamath County School District will use its $956,589 to hire four part-time mentors for new teachers and invest in professional development for certified and classified staff.

Beaverton will focus a portion of its $5 million in funds on paid training for substitute teachers and teacher assistants. Beaverton’s executive director for strategic initiatives, David Williams, said the replacement training will help support these staff members and the teachers they cover, ensuring classrooms are led by a replacement. form.

“We provide initial training … so that our educational assistants, our paraeducators, feel sufficiently trained and able to handle these circumstances, especially in these areas where students have high needs,” Williams said.

Like McMinnville, the district uses a portion of its funds on retention bonuses. This includes a $1,000 retention bonus to certified employees for the upcoming school year.

At Beaverton, retention efforts funded by HB 4030 extend beyond the classroom. Williams said the district is working on “targeted wage adjustments” for transportation and nutrition service workers to better support them.

“We recognize that there is a system-wide labor challenge and we are trying to address it,” he said.

But officials say the grant funds provided by House Bill 4030 are not a long-term solution.

“You’re not going to drive systemic change with a one-year grant,” Williams said.

In McMinnville, Frost said the district is continuing its work.

“In the long run, it will help us retain people,” Frost said.

“I don’t think that solves a problem that we already have, there aren’t enough people in education to start with, especially in those specialty areas.”

That’s why McMinnville is part of the Mid-Willamette Education Consortium, which includes more than 20 other school districts and community colleges. Frost said creative thinking, non-traditional programs, and more college recruiting are a few tools groups can use to help address school staffing issues.

“We didn’t get here overnight, we didn’t end up with this labor shortage overnight, and we’re not going to fix it overnight.”

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