Sunday, September 17, 2000

Teacher defections worry Lakota

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        WEST CHESTER TWP. — Lured by higher pay and better opportunities, more Lakota teachers than ever are defecting to nearby districts, a trend that has administrators in the fast-growing district worried.

        “I am genuinely concerned about becoming a training ground for other districts,” Superintendent Kathleen Klink said. “Other districts are offering opportunities we cannot offer and will not be able to unless we pass a levy.”

        For West Chester Township resident Elaine Santos, the primary incentive to leave Lakota wasn't money, but she did get a pay increase by switching from Lakota's freshman school to Mason High School. There, she was hired as high school choral director last year, and this year was named performing arts department chair for grades kindergarten through 12.

        “It was hard, very hard to leave Lakota. I was very content, very happy,” said Mrs. Santos, who taught in the Lakota Schools seven years. “But I needed and wanted more challenge in a high school program. I could not wait five or more years before a position would open again in Lakota.”

        In Lakota, the performing arts chair was eliminated a few years ago, Mrs. Santos said. In Mason, performing arts programs are expanding.

        A beginning teacher in Lakota with a bachelor's degree and no experience earns $25,964 annually, the same as last year, said treasurer Alan Hutchinson. That salary is the lowest of the four districts he compared, including Mason, Sycamore and Princeton districts. And the gap widens as teachers progress through the pay scale, based on education and experience, Mr. Hutchinson said.

        To start the 1998-99 school year, Lakota added 73 teaching positions and lost 41 teachers, eight to resignations. The following year, the district added only 28 new positions but 61 people left, of which 15 were resignations. This year the district added 7.5 new positions but lost 89 teachers, including 15 who retired.

        The exodus is most evident with teachers who have 10 or more years of experience, Mrs. Klink said.

        “People who are leaving are at an age where their families are growing, they may be facing college tuition and an extra $2,000 to $4,000 a year (or more) is a significant amount of money,” said Sandy Wheatley, president of the Lakota Board of Education. “Our seasoned teachers, outstanding teachers, are leaving and going to the Masons, the Sycamores, and the Wyomings.”

        The Lakota Board is asking voters to approve a single ballot question that includes a 26-year, $44.5 million bond issue and an operating levy to raise $8.3 million annually.


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- Teacher defections worry Lakota