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School District lost one teacher in six last year


Indian River County School District lost more than one sixth of its teachers during the 2016-2017 school year, a high rate of attrition that comes with hard-to-calculate costs to the district and its mission of educating children.

Nearly 200 of the district’s 1,120 teachers left during the 2016-17 fiscal school year which ran through June 30, according to documents provided in response to a public records request by Vero Beach 32963.   

That number is more than double the 8 percent attrition rate cited by District Superintendent Mark Rendell in April. More teachers have left since he made that claim, but no update on attrition has been provided to the community.

The nearly 200 departures also are almost double the teacher-loss rate claimed by Rendell for the 2015-2016 school year.

The Florida Department of Education does not require school districts to track teacher turnover, and it’s not clear how sharp a fix Indian River County School District has on the numbers. The administration initially refused to provide teacher turnover statistics to Vero Beach 32963, saying it did not have the figures.

This newspaper then paid the district $200 to compile a report, asking for a breakdown by school.

There are 23 traditional public schools in the district. The charter schools were not included in the district’s report.

The school with the highest turnover this past year was the Alternative Learning Center for discipline-problem students. Five out of 11.6 teachers left – one was part time – for a 43 percent turnover rate. Indian River Academy had 12 out of 36 teachers leave for a 33 percent turnover rate.

Gifford Middle School had 16 out of 53 teachers leave for a 30 percent turnover rate.

In February, Vero Beach 32963 reported on two teachers at Gifford Middle who said they left teaching because of discipline problems at the school. 

Both Bonnie Julin and Bill Wood said disruptions in their classrooms made it impossible to teach, and said they left their jobs to save their health.

“My doctor told me I’ve got to stop, I’m going to stroke-out in the classroom,” said Julin, whose last day was in mid-January.

“I didn’t sleep last night, all the anxiety came back,” said Wood, who developed a heart condition that has eased since he took an early retirement.

Although previous school spokesperson Flynn Fidgeon reported three more teachers left Gifford this year – which would push the total of lost teachers to 19 at the school – new spokesperson Cristen McMillan said the three left before July 1, 2016, the start date for counting teacher-losses for 2016-2017.

Four county schools had turnover rates over 20 percent. Storm Grove Middle School saw 12 out of 45 teachers leave for nearly a 27 percent turnover. Vero Beach Elementary had 13 out of 49 teachers leave, also nearly a 27 percent rate of turnover. Dodgertown Elementary and Citrus elementary both lost about a quarter of their teachers – 9 out of 35 at Dodgertown and 14 out of 56 at Citrus.

The lowest teacher turnover rate was at Osceola Magnet, an elementary school, where just 2 out of 35 teachers departed. Beachland Elementary had similar low turnover, with only 2 out of 32 teachers leaving.

Of the teachers who left, 31 retired, more than 120 resigned and 30 were coded as “non-renew,” which means either they or the district chose not to renew their contract, according to school spokesperson McMillan. The district dismissed five teachers and two teachers transferred. The remainder left for reasons that are not clear in the school district paperwork. 

School Board members asked to comment on the high teacher-turnover rate did not respond by press time.

But Randy Heimler, who is running for Indian River County School Board Chairman Charles Searcy’s seat in the November 2018 elections, said he has already spoken to nearly 10,000 voters in the several months he has been campaigning, and teacher turnover is their biggest concern.

“The number one issue is the high number of teachers leaving our school district and the reasons why they are leaving,” Heimler said. “The number one reason is the lack of respect they are receiving from the administration, the district, and the School Board. This is mostly being caused by the non-enforcement of the discipline policy.

“The teachers cannot teach when they have children that should either be receiving services or they are just not being properly disciplined by the school administration,” Heimler said.

“The teachers have nowhere to go to fix this problem and instead they are becoming more and more frustrated, and then they eventually just leave our school district.”