June 2017, Vol. 1

HR year in review

by Amy Campbell

The 2016–17 school year is wrapping up, and while teachers may be taking a little time to rest this summer, district HR staff are working to finish year-end processes and complete hiring and placement of staff for the 2017–18 school year. We spoke with HR staff across the state to learn about what challenges they faced this year and what successes they enjoyed. Some of their insights also give a peek into what’s on the horizon for HR in 2017–18.

Challenges in 2016–17

It’s probably no surprise budget limitations were a challenge cited by several HR professionals.
Lolly Guerra, Program Director at the Texas Association of School Personnel Administrators (TASPA), said figuring out salaries for 2017–18 has been a challenge.

“The Legislature still hasn’t passed a budget, and districts are trying to determine salaries without knowing what resources they’ll have,” she said.

Marcia Daniels, Director of HR at San Elizario ISD (SEISD), also would love for budgets to be set earlier, but she acknowledges that’s difficult to do, especially in a legislative year.

“Budgets should be determined earlier,” she said. “They handicap districts by doing it so late. It’s hard to give raises or determine the amount of raises. If some other districts are announcing sooner, we do our best to match them, but we’re small enough that we can’t go out on a limb and say for sure that’s what we’re going to do.”

Recruiting for hard-to-fill positions continues to be a challenge and it’s not looking like this will get any easier next year.

“We went through a period where we had an abundance of teachers,” said Guerra. “Now universities aren’t producing the numbers [of graduates] they used to. The critical shortage areas are even worse. Bilingual, math, science, foreign languages—they’re even harder to fill.”

Rose Benitez, Executive Director of TASPA, said many districts are using the certification flexibilities offered by becoming a District of Innovation to help address the shortages. But that also poses issues.

“What does flexibility mean?” Benitez said. “That’s been a challenge. Every time we do a certification workshop, questions about districts of innovation come up. We’re telling districts they really need HR at the table and they need to be specific when they talk about flexibility in certification.”

HR professionals encounter obstacles outside of core HR functions, too. Willie Watson, Assistant Superintendent of HR at San Marcos CISD and the TASPA Executive Board President for 2016–17, shared issues such as recapture, STAAR testing, and high percentages of low socioeconomic students (SES) to educate can put a lot of pressure on HR staff.

For example, districts with a large low-SES population may struggle more with teacher turnover, given they often set very high expectations for their teachers to improve student academic growth, and those students can be more challenging to educate. Districts subject to recapture are sending money back to the state, which limits the amount of funding available for pay increases and improving teacher pay.

Daniels said in border districts like hers, deportation is a major concern throughout the community and some families have withdrawn their students causing enrollment swings.

“The focus on [deportation] takes away from what really needs to be the focus: improving our students’ education and their well-being,” she said. “We’re having to focus on trying to keep them from being afraid instead of learning.”

Successes in 2016–17

But 2016–17 also had some big successes in the K-12 HR world. The new Human Capital Leader in Education (HCLE) certification was cited by several HR professionals as a major success this school year. TASPA partnered with the American Association of School Personnel Administrators (AASPA) and Battelle for Kids to provide the certification in two pilot trainings in Texas this school year.

“That’s been on the strategic plan for TASPA and all of us in HR in the state for many years,” Watson said. “It’s nice to be able to finally get that off the ground with a reputable organization.”

Guerra echoed Watson’s point.

“We intend to continue that,” Guerra said, “and then, of course, it’s gone nationwide now with the virtual program.”

Daniels said San Elizario ISD worked hard this year to revamp their new employee orientation.

“I wanted to get a survey from our new teachers about what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well,” she said.

HR took the results of the survey and have revamped their practices to meet new teachers’ needs. She also said the district is focusing more on retention and trying low-cost methods for showing how much the district values its teachers, such as hosting an ice cream social for new teachers and gifting them with a rolling cart at the completion of their first year in the district. Daniels said these efforts have helped them retain more of their new teacher hires.

Some districts have managed to turn the challenge of budget adoption into a success by shifting the process to earlier in the year.

Watson said he was able to move the budget adoption process at San Marcos CISD—including compensation plan adoption—from a June–August timeframe to April–May.

“That’s big for this organization because it’s never been done,” he said.

It also allowed the district to announce next year’s salaries before many of its peer districts, which will help with recruitment.

Finally, Daniels said use of social media by San Elizario ISD has supported the district’s recruitment efforts.

“We’re very Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat crazy,” she said. “We’re constantly promoting the good going on in the district. All of this good stuff going on is what gives us such a good reputation.”

Daniels credits much of the positive messaging to Sylvia Hopp, the SEISD superintendent.

“Social media helps us to get the word out in a format that people wanting to come to the district like to see,” Daniels said. “Because the superintendent is herself so into social media, it’s grown like wildfire over the past couple of years.”

The district is using this to their recruiting advantage by sharing images of the district’s new STEM building through social media, which Daniels said will support her efforts to recruit seasoned educators from other districts.