Some local school districts are seeing widespread staff departures this summer, but the numbers may be indicative of the larger problem — the high cost of living in the area — and not related to the pandemic.

According to EdWeek’s education reporting, around 8 percent of teachers leave the profession each year. Although many experts predicted an uptick in teacher exits following the pandemic, that trend hasn’t materialized on a nationwide scale so far, EdWeek found.

Pacifica and Coastside schools will see varying personnel changes come fall. Of those that responded to media requests, Jefferson Union High School District saw the most significant increase in staff exits, with 53 positions now open. That’s a 10 to 15 percent increase from normal, according to Human Resources Director Daina Lujan.

Lujan said that while staff members have their own reasons for leaving, many teachers, administrators and other staff leave Jefferson Union because the pay isn’t commensurate with the cost of living.

“The average cost of rent in Pacifica and Daly City is too much for most new teachers coming in brand-new,” Lujan said. “That is part of the larger state and national teacher shortage.”

According to Lujan, data from exit interviews shows that some employees moved out of the area during the pandemic and were able to keep their jobs during remote learning, but will leave come fall. Stress related to the pandemic, however, did not come up in any interviews, Lujan said. She credits the district’s emphasis on wellness as a factor. Only one staff member left for a job at a private school.

“Those who left went to higher paying public school districts or they simply moved out of the area,” Lujan said.

Leaders from Pacifica School District did not respond to a request for teacher exit data.

With such varying district sizes and conditions, these trends aren’t consistent in every community. Cabrillo Unified School District saw 26 employees leave the district this year, accounting for 10 percent of certificated staff and 8 percent of classified staff, on par with national averages. La Honda-Pescadero Unified lost just two teachers, both of whom had already planned to retire this year.

At Half Moon Bay’s private Sea Crest School, just two teachers left. Head of School Lauren Miller said that’s a significant decrease from normal, perhaps surprising in light of the pandemic.

“I believe it is a result of being open this year and a real positivity in our community culture about our successes this year,” Miller said.

For Lujan, filling the holes left by 53 staff this summer will be no easy task. She plans to work nonstop this summer to advertise to candidates, first internally and then externally, across social media, at virtual job fairs and through local universities. Lujan does have one big selling point: The district is planning to build employee housing within the next year to attract and retain more teachers to the area.

But without traditional in-person recruitment fairs, Lujan said, it can be more difficult to find and attract qualified candidates. And that’s only the start. After interviews and offers comes onboarding and background checks, all of which can get delayed. Then new hires have to be approved by the governing board, all before the first day of school come fall.

“Anyone who is working in education HR is working very frenetically this summer,” Lujan said. “It is a 24/7 process.” 

Sarah Wright is the deputy editor for the Review. She reports on unincorporated San Mateo County and local schools. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and has worked in policy and communications in Washington, D.C.

(1) comment

Steve Hyman

Why is this news? This has been a problem here for decades. I remember my kids principal in the 80s left for Sacramento cause of high cost of housing (both purchase and rentals then).

And with high cost of housing increasing so much over the years, this trend will only get worse. Combine that with the anti-growth attitude of our community and growth limits, there’s no realistic solution in sight to this long term problem.

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