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'Catastrophe' | The word used to describe the current teacher shortage

Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president, said in all his years in Central Texas, he's never seen teachers resign at such high rates.

AUSTIN, Texas — The worker crunch in this hot labor market is hitting many industries, and one suffering in our community is schools. Teachers are quitting, changing careers, and districts struggle to hire and keep the staff they have.

Emmaleigh Toto is one Austin ISD teacher who put in her resignation Thursday. 

"It's kind of heartbreaking," she said.

About a decade ago, Toto landed a job as a teacher in the neighborhood she grew up in.

"I'm a native of Austin," said Toto. "When I got the position there, you know, nine years ago, I was really excited because it's kind of like coming home in many ways and I have really enjoyed my time on the campus."

It was a school she loved with students she admires. But, now, she's leaving.

"The campus climate has become pretty toxic," she added. "They're not very student-centered and the way that our campus administration and leadership team, the way that they communicate to families, to parents, especially to teachers, is very negative and not very constructive. Especially when feedback is given about instructional practice."

And dozens of teachers join Toto. In March 2022, a total of 124 teachers resigned. Just to put it into comparison, in March 2019, pre-pandemic, 23 teachers left the district at the same time that year. 

The pandemic stressed educators more. 

"I have not seen such a catastrophe as what's happening right now," said Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president.

Zarifis said teachers are faced with an overwhelming workload and a lack of respect. These are just two of the reasons they're leaving.

"We hear a lot of lip service for taking care of kids, and we get it," added Zarifis. "That's our number one job in this district. But to take care of kids, you have to take care of the grown-ups to take care of the kids."

As of March 25, Austin ISD had 134 teaching jobs open. 

"This district is probably 1,200 to 1,300 employees lower at this point this year than they were the previous two years," said Zarifis.

He doesn't think they'll be able to fill all vacant positions next year. In the meantime, Toto's last day will be at the end of May. 

"I'm looking forward to finding a position where I'll be valued," she added. 

Austin ISD continues its efforts to retain more teachers. A spokesperson for the district outlined previous incentives and bonuses they've given. 

  • A one-time $250 incentive for being fully vaccinated by October 2021.
  • A $1,000 one-time retention incentive payment in February 2021.
  • A $1,000 one-time bonus, approved as part of the 2021 budget, was paid out in September 2021. 
  • 96% of teachers earned a PPfT increase this year, ranging from $500-$3,000. Teachers were the only staff to get a raise outside of incentive payments.
  • Starting salaries for teachers and librarians were also increased to $51,150.

They also told us about future plans. The district proposed raises for the 2022-23 school year. 

  • A pay increase for teachers by 2% of the midpoint of their pay scale.
  • A $1,000 base pay increase, which would increase pay for approximately 5,000 teachers.

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