NUSD fights national teacher crisis

The national teacher shortage has had teachers leaving at “alarming numbers” according to the National Education Association. Marin schools are not immune to this crisis. Within the county, Novato Unified School District (NUSD) and San Marin are significantly impacted. Eight teachers left San Marin last year. Currently, San Marin is short three teachers leaving some staff with overflowing classrooms and more classes.

Devaki Narayan

One of NUSD’s main goals is to ‘attract and retain quality teachers’. According to NUSD’s teacher union president, Mariah Fisher, NUSD is having difficulty achieving this goal because they cannot retain teachers due to lower pay and high class sizes.

Teachers in NUSD, as well as two other districts in Marin, are financially supported by student attendance. According to NUSD superintendent Dr. Jan La Torre-Derby, NUSD is paid $55 for each student that comes to school, but they do not get the money for students who do not attend. For NUSD to get full funding from the state, it needs a 97% attendance rate. Currently, NUSD has an attendance rate between 92% and 95%. This compares with the other 15 districts in Marin, which are paid whether or not the students are present, and instead are paid through property taxes. This results in these other districts being able to pay teachers around $20,000 more per year, and NUSD being one of the lowest-paying districts in the county.

“We are the second lowest for all of Marin county for our teacher pay,” Derby said.

The lower pay can make it hard for teachers to justify working for NUSD.

“A teacher who realizes that they are making a huge finan- cial sacrifice to work here, that’s a lot to wrestle with,” Fisher said, “We lose teachers because of that every year and this year was the worst we have seen.”

For many teachers who left last year, it was not difficult to find work in higher paying schools. One of these teachers was math teacher Kimberly Labozzetta, who was last year’s Golden Bell award winner as well as the freshman class’s favorite teacher according to a poll taken by the Pony Express.

“She [Ms. Labozzetta] was very good…We just hated losing her,” Derby said.

This is part of a larger teacher shortage that is being felt across the country. Nationally and locally many teachers are overall unhappy and burnt out, especially since Covid.

Some teachers have started teaching an extra class because of the shortage. STEM Physics and AP Physics teacher, Nick Williams, is teaching seven classes this year compared to the standard of five. This can make teaching even more difficult and time consuming.

“It’s not a situation we want to have on a consistent basis, because I think long term it will burn teachers out.” Williams said.

Some departments in San Marin have been hit especially hard with the teacher shortage and are filling the absences by having teachers like Williams work more than full time or giving them larger class sizes. San Marin hopes to fill these positions if and when applications are submitted, but there have been no new applications.

One of these departments is the English department, which is currently down one teacher. 

Mary McGurke, who now has abnormally large class sizes, has two classes with 36 students, while last year her biggest class was 32. 

This can make one-on-one work with each student more difficult, and less likely.

“You can’t have as close of a relationship, get to know what they [students] need as much.” McGurke said.

In order for NUSD to change the way it is financially supported, the state must approve a new way to be funded.

“It’s a state fight. We aren’t alone, there are three districts in Marin out of 18 that are funded this way and we struggle. We are the biggest, so we struggle the most but it’s a statewide issue that really needs to be addressed at the state level.” Fisher said. 

NUSD also recognizes the problem, and its goal is to have teacher pay increased. 

“I think it’s important to share as much as you possibly can about this issue,” Derby said. “We want it fixed. We really do, there’s no question.”

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