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Teachers opting to quit? Maybe, maybe not

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I have been hearing for weeks now that New Mexico schoolteachers are fed up, burned out and packing their book bags to leave the profession.

I’ve gotten emails that describe schools as besieged by unhappiness with the state Public Education Department’s new teacher evaluation system and with a calendar they say is too heavy on administering standardized tests.

Here’s a sample from one distraught teacher describing the mood at her school: “Many are crying in the halls this year. No one smiles, we look like the apocalypse zombies. It has altered our school in a deep, profound way.”

Groups of teachers have organized to wear black in protest of PED policies. They have rallied in protest, turned out at meetings to pepper Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera with questions and complaints and taken to Facebook to commiserate.

It’s obvious that some teachers are unhappy. But are they leaving?

I’d like to give you a definitive answer, but it’s hard to say.

Let’s look at the numbers.

There are about 22,000 public school teachers in New Mexico. About 6,700 of those teachers work in the state’s largest district, Albuquerque Public Schools.

In APS, midyear retirements are up, and so are vacancies.

The APS Human Resources Department said 39 teachers retired at the end of the first semester of the 2011-2012 school year and 45 retired at the end of the first semester of the 2012-2013 school year. So far this school year, 70 teachers have notified the district that they’ll be retiring at the end of this semester – only about 1 percent of the APS teacher workforce, but a 55 percent jump in a year.

Retirement isn’t the only way to leave teaching. Teachers who aren’t of retirement age can simply quit, leaving New Mexico for other school systems or leaving the profession entirely.

APS spokesman Rigo Chavez told me vacancies – teaching jobs and others – are up. “In a typical year, we have about 500 vacancies,” he said. “This year, there have been about 700.”

The best source to monitor retirements statewide is the Educational Retirement Board, which processes the pensions of educational workers, including public school teachers.

For midyear retirements, according to ERB Executive Director Jan Goodwin, the ERB processed 124 retirements for K-12 employees in the 2011-2012 school year, 131 in the 2012-2013 school year and 97 this school year, with about a month left before the deadline to file.

Those numbers are incomplete for this semester, and they include more than classroom teachers. Goodwin said she could not isolate the number of classroom teachers among those midyear retirees because many school districts don’t include job titles in their paperwork.

Most teachers who retire don’t leave in the middle of the school year; they wait until the end. Teachers intending to retire at the end of this 2013-2014 school year have an effective retirement date of July 1, 2014, and must put in their paperwork to the ERB by June 2014. Most of the retirement paperwork tends to come in starting in April or May, Goodwin said, and few people submit it as early as now.

Looking back, 1,010 K-12 employees, teachers included, retired under ERB at the end of the 2011-21012 school year and 1,049 retired at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Because of the traditional spring rush, Goodwin said, she won’t know until the spring, when the deadline for retiring has passed, whether retirements are up, down or even for this school year.

Another complicating factor, Goodwin said, is that a glut of baby boomer teachers is nearing 25 years service and opting for retirement. If statewide retirement numbers are up at the end of this school year, will it be because teachers are disgruntled or simply because a glut of teachers have their 25 years in? The numbers won’t say.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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Friday marked the ninth year in a row teachers Dana Pederson, center, and Angela Maurer, right, have met at the Target in Rio Rancho to start their Black Friday shopping. At left, Target executive team leader Jennifer Christensen was available to answer any questions. Target opened for Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. Thursday, Christensen said, the second year in a row it's done so. The first items to be cleaned out, she noted, were PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones. Pederson teaches at Albuquerque Academy; Maurer is a teacher at Sandia Vista Elementary in Rio Rancho. (Rio Rancho Observer—GARY HERRON photo)
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