District, DATA reach tentative agreement

Sierra Sands addresses challenges, tools in recruitment

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

District, DATA reach tentative agreementWith a tentative contract agreement in place between Sierra Sands Unified School District and Desert Area Teachers Association, the district hopes to be able to offer new incentives to current and prospective teachers in the valley.

The proposal is expected to be submitted to DATA membership for ratification at the end of this month, then appear before the SSUSD Board of Education for approval at its April 20 regular meeting.

Changes include a 1.75-percent across-the-board increase for all teachers, plus an expedited salary schedule for new teachers, bringing the starting pay to approximately $44,500.Teachers credentialed in special education and speech-language pathology will also be offered stipends of $1,000 and $1,500, respectively, to help fill some of the most high-demand positions.

“I think the additional monies are an improvement,” said Barb Walls, president of DATA. “Beginning-teacher salaries have been so low that college graduates aren’t very interest in our district. With student loans, they can’t afford to teach here.”

Walls said that California graduates can often get better offers elsewhere, and out-of-state teachers are burdened with the added expense of earning another state credential.

“The 1.75-percent increase helps assuage some of the pain of the increased cost of benefits that teachers shouldered last year.”

Incoming teachers also play an important role in the overall economic vitality of a community. Apart from the value of contributing to an educated population, “Teachers who earn a professional competitive salary purchase houses, automobiles, insurance and shop locally,” said Walls.

“With Sierra Sands as one of the larger employers in the area, our salaries influence the local economy.”

Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources David Ostash said that between a nationwide teacher shortage and the inherent challenges of attracting professionals to our remote community, he hopes these incentives will help energize ongoing recruitment efforts.

“Today’s young new teacher often comes to a school district with a student loan debt which we have observed to heighten new teachers’ sensitivity to starting salary numbers,” he said.

“When new teachers have a monthly student loan payment that is equal or greater to what people might consider a modern car payment, it is no wonder that starting salary becomes more competitive among school districts.”

He said that the district also leveraged existing research data to identify the most acute shortage of qualified teachers in the market to develop the stipends.

“District and DATA both agree that there is room to grow with incentives,” he added. “For example, math and science teachers are also in serious demand.”

Ostash also pointed to the value of a recently produced video highlighting the professional learning environment at SSUSD.

“Many people throughout the state have never heard of Ridgecrest.” Offering a glimpse into the expanding campuses, award-winning schools, and high-achieving students and teachers “gives a visual affirmation of our vibrant schools and our community.” He said that he has already brought the video to recruitment fairs at Fresno State and Azusa Pacific universities.

Ostash said that Sierra Sands, along with other schools across the state, are still adjusting to the new funding model as well as increasing state and federal costs being passed on to them as employers. However, he said, the district is doing its best to identify challenges and opportunities down the road.

“Our ultimate opportunity is that we are a district comprised of unbelievably dedicated teachers and staff who make our district a special place to work and learn.”

Pictured: A still from the new video highlighting Sierra Sands Unified School District could help recruit new teachers (and other residents) to the valley. -- Photo courtesy of Ray Hocker

Story First Published: 2017-03-17