While weeks of payroll issues caused by the Clark County School District’s new $17 million human resources system have shorted teachers and staffers on pay, another component of the software has made it harder for principals to hire teachers in a district facing its highest vacancy rate in years.
The hiring system known as Taleo was rolled out on Jan. 13 as part of the district’s campaign to modernize its heavily paper-based human resources system. Principals reported almost immediately that the system was not displaying all open positions, an issue that now has been largely resolved, according to Nadine Jones, the district’s chief human resources officer.
But principals say the glitch, with a feature that does not allow them to access applicants’ information in real time, continues to cause problems at a time of year when they need to make timely hires. The delays, they say, mean applicants could grow frustrated with weekslong waits for an interview and take jobs elsewhere.
Going into the next year with those spots unfilled could exacerbate a vacancy crisis that saw the district start the school year with around 750 empty teaching positions, a number that has steadily grown from 325 in 2016-17 and is approaching the 890 number that made the district a poster child of the teacher shortage crisis in 2015.
Garehime Elementary School Principal Ryan Lewis said he supports the district’s transition to a new system after decades spent relying on a DOS-based system and even understands the rationale behind withholding candidates from principals until they’re fully vetted.
“But the district doesn’t have the resources to process these applications as quickly as they need to be processed,” Lewis said. “It all comes back to having enough people and the the funding to do it.”
Beyond issues with the new system, Lewis says his school is budgeted to lose several teaching positions because of both improving its star rating and enrolling fewer kindergartners than it graduated fifth graders. But should more students than expected arrive on his campus in August, Lewis says he will have to scramble to add staff after school has started, drawing from a diminished pool of candidates and under a time crunch.
Spring Valley High Principal Tam Larnerd said that principals can be front-line recruiters for their schools, sometimes cold-calling candidates themselves to fill upcoming vacant positions. But the new system requires them to wait until candidates are vetted, which he said takes two hours of work for each applicant.
The result is that many job listings that have been posted for weeks have yet to yield a list of candidates for many principals, Larnerd said.
The last time the district was fully staffed was in 1994, Superintendent Jesus Jara said in his Jan. 31 State of Our Schools speech.
Some of the most critical shortages are math, science and special education teachers, specialties that received the fewest applications over the past three years, according to records provided by the district. The records also indicate that the district has started previous school years with posted vacancies and a backlog of applicants awaiting interviews.
Principals acknowledge that the vetting bottleneck existed before the new software was installed but say it and a shortage of manpower to process applications are making the delays worse.
Jones, the district’s HR officer, said her goal is to recruit three times as many applicants as there are vacancies to create leeway for principals and applicants.
“Hiring decisions are ultimately up to the principal,” Jones said. “Maybe a principal might extend an offer, and the applicant might say, ‘No thank you,’ or vice versa.”
She said her office uses a range of recruitment tactics, targeting colleges and universities in particular, while also shoring up the district’s grow-your-own endeavors, like the Alternate Route to Licensure program and the the Teacher Education Academy at Clark High School.
New software known as Telemetry also will give the district the ability to track the effects of each of its recruiting efforts, she said, measuring not only how many teachers are hired but how long they stay in the district.
Taleo was meant to offer a smoother application process for applicants in keeping with the district’s modernization efforts, but on the back end, it also ties hiring directly to a school’s budget, Jones said. No positions can be posted if they’re not budgeted without approval from higher ups, she said.
She added that her office met with principals Thursday and expects to continue conversations on Taleo.
“We’re cognizant that the hiring managers who are largely the principals are our customers and we should listen to them,” Jones said. “We want to be able to hire fast to support the children in our community.”
New system, old issues
Principals and others in the district have different thoughts on why the number of teaching vacancies is increasing, with many focusing on the national teacher shortage or attrition of teachers unhappy with CCSD’s wages and work climate. The district posted an attrition rate of about 8 percent as reported by the Nevada Department of Education in December 2019.
But neither explanation satisfies Michael Gentry, a human resources consultant credited with helping to reduce the district’s vacancy numbers in 2016-17, an effort also aided by a bump in teacher starting pay approved by the Legislature the prior year.
While there is a national shortage, CCSD has been able to combat it in the past, he said, adding that the same year the district reduced vacancies to around 300, it posted a $60 million budget deficit.
“You don’t want to be overstaffed, I understand that,” Gentry said. “But (that means) you’re willing to gamble with the future of those students who won’t have a full-time teacher all year.”
At Swainston Middle School in North Las Vegas, seventh grade teaching vacancies mean students take some classes in an auditorium to ensure they receive instruction from a full-time teacher, according to the district, which maintains that CCSD aims to have a licensed teacher in every classroom by 2024.
To recruit and hire all needed teachers would be an expensive endeavor, Gentry said. One study estimates it costs $21,000 per teacher hired. But Gentry said the district has a moral duty to ensure every classroom has a licensed full-time teacher.
In the district’s new hiring system, Gentry said he sees a return to practices that complicate the recruitment and hiring processes, potentially leading to a vacancy crisis in the next school year to rival those in the past.
While there is a national teacher shortage, Gentry said it’s not enough to accept it as a final answer.
“You don’t throw your hands up and give up,” Gentry said. “You dig in and find what’s special about your organization that will bring people in.”