Can new teacher pay programs stop Iowa's brain drain woes?

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

The ad reads: "Wanted - family and consumer science teacher for high school in town of 1,055 people. Starting salary: $26,000 for recent college grads.

Since August, Joanne Smith, superintendent of the George-Little Rock Community School District in northwest Iowa, has unsuccessfully mined for prospects.

"I think this has to do somewhat with our location because we are in a rural area," Smith said.

Iowa districts, especially the tiny ones, have been rushing to sign up for the state's massive, $300 million, 5-year program to revamp the way teachers are compensated in an effort to attract and keep quality teachers.

As of Thursday, 353 of Iowa's 371 districts had signed on to phase one, which pairs rookie teachers with mentors.

Additionally, in 349 districts, some teachers received a pay boost. Most area schools belong to both groups. Eighteen schools are experimenting with a teacher pay system based on student performance.

The program was hatched as lawmakers worried about the state's 35th ranking nationally in average teacher pay - and its ability to retain talent.

Like other northwest Iowa school leaders, Smith touts the low crime rate, cheap cost of living and proximity to the Iowa Lakes region to prospects. But

Teacher Mining / See Back

local nightlife possibilities for a young graduate are mostly limited to a Pizza Ranch restaurant, two bars and a steak house. George doesn't have a movie theater. The nearest city, Sioux Falls, S.D., is 50 miles away.

The pay plan might make a difference in her recruiting, Smith said.

"There needs to be equity across the board in attracting teachers," she said. "The 90 students we serve here through family and consumer science should have the same opportunity as 90 students living in urban West Des Moines."

Lawmakers diverted $40 million from the state's share of the multistate tobacco settlement to pay for the first phase of the teacher pay program, but haven't said how they're going to pay for it next year. With state revenues dwindling in a weak economy, some education groups have warned they will not support an underfunded teacher pay program.

Matt Hanes, a first-year vocal music teacher at Atlantic High School, about 80 miles west of Des Moines, said the money offered by lawmakers is not enough to affect a new teacher's job choice anyway.

"In my field, with what we get paid, every bit helps, but I don't know if that would have swayed me," he said. "If you divide it over 12 months and take out for taxes, it's something like $120 more dollars a month."

Hanes said he might consider teaching one day in a larger city _ maybe Chicago.

"There are other states that do offer more pay and compensation and more stuff to do as a young twentysomething," he said.

Cedar Falls native Leanne Dorhout, a 2000 graduate of Central College in Pella, hit pay dirt when she left Iowa. She teaches eighth-grade English in Colleyville, Texas, a well-to-do suburb of Dallas.

"This is an exceptional school district," she said.

Dorhout said her district pays starting teachers about $10,000 more per year than districts in Iowa. She is studying for a masters degree in educational administration, which is partially paid by the district.

She is given three class periods a day to intern toward the master's program, meet with other teachers and catch up on class work.

"Every weekend there is something to do here," said Dorhout about the Dallas metro area, and her rent and car insurance are cheaper, too.

"I pay $625 for about 750-square-foot apartment," she said. "In a similar area in Des Moines, I would pay $850 to $900 for the same apartment."

Still, the number of new teachers leaving Iowa appears to be leveling off. At the University of Iowa, 48 percent of teaching graduates took an out-of-state job in 2001, compared to 64 percent in 1998. At the University of Northern Iowa, about 70 percent of the school's graduates stayed in Iowa.

Money wasn't the primary reason, according to a study released earlier this year. Most graduates who stayed in Iowa did so to be near family or their hometowns, while only 18 percent listed money as a reason for staying.

Ryan Dumkrieger, a first-year teacher at Lawton-Bronson Junior-Senior High School, about 10 miles east of Sioux City, knows how much more the California or suburban Chicago schools pay. As a business education teacher, he has been tempted by offers of $5,000 signing bonuses.

Still, he stayed after graduating last spring from Morningside College.

"I wanted to stay close to my family. That would be the number one reason," said Dumkrieger, who grew up on Soldier, about 45 miles southwest of Sioux City. "The pay is not really why I stayed."

He commutes from Sioux City to Lawton-Bronson, where he teaches 91 students in the sixth to 12th grades. One period, he teaches two classes at once. He juggles six different lesson plans.

Dumkrieger said the new teacher pay program is confusing to most of his peers.

"I don't see how it's going to attract people to Iowa and I don't think the money is going to be there next year," he said.


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