LA MARQUE — The school district is struggling to fill vacant positions as resignations and retirements continue to add up ahead of the start of classes in August.
La Marque High School Principal Morris Gurnell has retired after more than 10 years with the district, and the search for a new principal has so far yielded “slim pickings,” interim co-superintendent Joanie Hudson said.
In the last month, trustees have approved the resignation or retirement of more than 20 employees, most of them teachers, and administrators are looking to replace the entire science department at the high school.
“We’re not on target at this point,” Hudson said when asked whether district schools would be fully staffed before the start of the fall semester.
To comply with a state-ordered financial solvency plan, the district has been forced to make layoffs, and part of the plan developed by consulting superintendent Ann Dixon called for the district to leave some positions open after employees’ retirement.
However, trustees seem alarmed at the rate employees are leaving the district, and last week, Dixon remarked that teachers were “dropping like flies.”
Most resigning employees have cited concerns about the district’s financial situation and salaries, trustees said. A $1.4 million windfall from the Texas Education Agency saved La Marque from having to make a planned across-the-board 5 percent pay cut, but a five-day furlough is still in place for 2013-14.
As the district’s finances become more stable, La Marque should have more success recruiting and retaining teachers, Hudson said.
The district is also developing new strategies to improve student test scores, and Hudson’s plan hinges on finding “key teachers” and a “turn-around principal” for the high school. Several trustees said they were concerned the district would be forced to make late hires this year.
Only one person has applied for the open principal job, Hudson said, and without more money, it may be difficult to lure in applicants.
Gurnell’s salary was $92,500, while the national average pay for high school principals is about $102,000, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
The district plans a yearlong teacher recruiting program and is having a job fair later this month.
Administrators are also attempting to recruit retired teachers to act as long-term substitutes when employees are out on family or medical leave.
The district is also set to receive a $1.7 million grant from the Texas Education Agency, which district administrators have said may help entice parents to enroll their children in La Marque schools and help with teacher recruitment.
The Texas 21st Century Community Learning Center will fund tutorial services, counseling, art and music programs, drug and violence prevention and other after-school initiatives.
Trustees plan to meet again Thursday to discuss filling another open position, as the board sets out a timeline to search for a new superintendent. Former superintendent Ecomet Burley resigned in April.