High teacher turnover: NUSD struggles to keep and attract talent

In a 2014-15 school year salary index released by the California Department of Education, the average NUSD teacher’s salary was $66,698. In their 2013-14 index, it was shown that the average Marin County high school teacher’s salary was $78,891. In 2014, a study by the Learning Policy Institute found a 35 percent decrease in teacher education enrollments since 2009. The salary competition with other districts, as well as fewer people being interested in the teaching profession, is making it harder to attract teachers to San Marin High School.

“In Novato, our salary schedule starts around $47,000 to around $96,000,” said San Marin Assistant Principal Leslie Norinsky. “However, the Tamalpais district pays around $52,000 to around 110,000.”

Part of the reason that Tamalpais pays so much more is because they are a Basic Aid district.

“That means they have a very wealthy tax base and they raise all of their money through property taxes and any additional extra property taxes they collect stays in their district,” said Norinsky. “Basic Aid districts may have much greater funding due to their wealthy property tax base.”

San Marin pays their teachers relatively well compared to other schools with the same characteristics, but with local districts to compete with, there is a constant struggle to find qualified teachers that will teach at San Marin. Marin County also has a high cost of living, so with higherpaying districts so close to Novato, it is understandable why teachers sometimes choose those schools over San Marin.

“There is a nationwide, and especially in California, teacher shortage. As a result, teachers can be selective in where they work. Some are moving to a new area, some are retiring, some will resign to work at another school,” said San Marin Principal Adam Littlefield.

“I went out and did a lot of recruiting of teachers last year…we were trying to recruit teachers from UC Davis. Coming from Davis, the rent here is twice as much. And the districts that are close to us pay significantly more,” said Nick Williams, the Science Department Head at San Marin. He went on to name San Rafael, Tamalpais, Redwood, and Drake as high schools with higher salaries than San Marin.

“I think cost of living is a big [reason], and then I think Novato is a wonderful place to live…but it’s not a marquee destination. We’re kind of a small town; it’s not San Francisco,” said Williams. “Teaching is a great career…but teaching has definitely become a two-earner career;

living in this kind of area, it would be very difficult to get by on a single salary,” His wife is also a teacher, and he said that for their family to survive financially, they both have to hold jobs.

People will come here as young teachers, and they’ll work for a year or two, and then when they’ve got their feet underneath them, then they’ll leave to a higher paying district,” said Ms. Marcelyn Smith, regarding why she thinks teachers are not staying at San Marin. Smith is a Spanish teacher and the World Language Department Head. She also acknowledged the comparatively lower NUSD salaries, saying, “They’re lower than typical Marin County salaries—and there are districts that don’t pay as well as Novato, but they also have a much lower cost of living, usually, in those districts—so it puts us in a difficult situation because it makes it hard for us to retain teachers.”

Although there are wealthier school districts in the same area as NUSD, some teachers expressed a fondness for Novato and San Marin High School. Despite the higher teacher salaries in other school districts, there are accomplished teachers at San Marin.

Williams received the Milken award last year, which is a national award presented to exceptional teachers as a way to recognize and thank them for their valuable work. Williams, along with his wife and three children, call Novato home.

“We were both really committed to wanting to be in a community—and improving that community—because I feel that one of the best ways to make the world a better place is to do that in a small section and really devote your time into that. I feel like I am making a difference in the world but I also feel like I have a reasonably high quality of life. We’ve decided that this is

where we want to raise our kids, and so we want to make it as good as we possibly can.”

Smith has been teaching at San Marin for 16 years; she laughed as she called herself “overly-loyal,” but she said that she stays because she loves the students and the area.

“I connect with people in a way that’s really meaningful to me, and when I make those bonds, those end up being stronger for me than the nuts and bolts of what it takes to make ends meet,” said Smith.