Are your employees feeling good about their paychecks?

Three strategies to effectively compete with local employers and reduce turnover in your district
By: | February 28, 2020
(Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash)(Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash)
Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.

When recruiting talent, you’re probably contending with local employers who can afford to pay higher wages. 

Some school districts have implemented creative ways to effectively compete, including eliminating salary caps. Offering competitive salaries or developing a variety of income opportunities sends a clear message to employees and job seekers: You’re valued, needed and essential to our district’s success.

Eliminate salary caps

At least 80% of students in Ogden School District, a Title I district in Utah, receive free or reduced-price lunches. Nationwide, employee turnover in such districts averages more then 25%, yet Ogden’s turnover averages 18%, says Jessica Bennington, executive director of human resources for Ogden.

She partially credits the district’s low turnover to removing salary caps for licensed professionals. They receive an $875 salary bump every year, and an additional $875 after three years on the job and then again between their seventh and eighth year in a position.

“We put a lot into professional development and want to retain our people and make sure we’re competitive,” Bennington says, adding that the pre-K through high school district employs 1,250 teachers and staff. “We’re high on the salary schedule for Utah. New hires say this is a big reason why they pick our district.” 

Offer extra-income opportunities

Noninstructional employees at the Ogden School District have other opportunities. The Ogden Police Department, for example, trained a handful as crossing guards who earn an additional $400 per month. Like most districts, licensed professionals also coordinate after-school programs, such as a chess club, earning $29.34 per hour.

Orange County Public Schools in Florida opened bus routes to classified employees and pays for them to be trained as licensed commercial drivers, says Theresa Harter-Miles, director of Compensation Services. Those with perfect attendance are also eligible for a $1,100 annual bonus.

Offering competitive salaries or developing a variety of income opportunities sends a clear message to employees and job seekers: You’re valued, needed and essential to our district’s success.

“So far, we have two people in the pilot program who are education paraprofessionals,” Harter-Miles says, adding that they can earn an additional $500 per month. “If it works, we’ll open the program up to other paraprofessionals at other schools and train them.”

Even paying college tuition is appreciated. Orange County Public Schools, which supports 25,000 employees and serves pre-K through high school students, partnered with Rollins College to develop an accelerated teaching degree program at night for paraprofessionals. It’s paid for by the college’s foundation and Title I funds. Currently, 18 paraprofessionals participate and another 14 plan on starting college in August. After graduation, Harter-Miles says their annual salaries will nearly double from roughly $22,000 to $40,700.


Read: How can your schools recruit and retain more black teachers?


A second partnership was developed with the University of Central Florida, Lockheed Martin Foundation and the district’s Title I department to help teachers obtain master’s degrees. One hundred teachers are in the pipeline while 22 have already graduated. In exchange for free tuition, they must teach at the district for at least three years.

One in-house training program—Emerging Leaders Academy—builds capacity for noninstructional employees such as cafeteria workers who seek district management positions. So far, 200 have completed the yearlong program that was launched in 2012 and can now transition to the Management Leadership Academy, a two-year program. 


Read: Why do your employees stay?


“We compete with Disney and Universal,” says Harter-Miles. “All of us in the city and county are feeling a lot of pressure involving compensation.”

Consider choice and flexibility

Not every district can offer salary bumps or income opportunities. So why not expand your benefit options?

Employees at the Davenport Community School District in Iowa can tailor their compensation and benefit package, says Robert Kobylski, superintendent of the pre-K through high school district that supports 2,500 employees.


Read: When teachers leave education, testing is not the cause


Seasoned administrators, for example, may choose long-term care insurance over other benefits, while young teachers may prefer a higher salary—versus a lower salary and signing bonus—to help pay off student debt over time. The district will soon offer benefit choices that appeal to various life stages.

Experienced teachers can also take advantage of coaching opportunities while being relieved of classroom responsibilities. They receive a “significant” stipend for coaching new instructors, Kobylski adds.

“We’re trying to provide an organizational culture and climate conducive to keeping individuals employed once they get here,” Kobylski says, adding that employees are also involved in decision-making and leadership opportunities. “We try to hit them from both compensation as well as feeling good about their work.” 

Low salaries often translate into poor performance. Maybe it’s time to try something new. Your employees are counting on it.


Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.