The Steamboat Springs School District will lose 283 years of teaching experience at the end of this month.
Among the teachers who have announced their retirement are George Weber, 29 years; Ken Janson, 29 years; Mary Brassell, 28 years; Patricia Ayer, 24 years; Ron Schnackenberg, 29 years; Tanna Brock, 29 years; Marian "Sam" Marti, 24 years; Kevin Ford, 18 years; Susan MacCarthy, 29 years; Edwin Chris Decker, 26 years; and Janet Acker, 18 years.
These teachers taught everything from math to physical education, and their experience will be impossible to replace. But that's nothing new. Every year for the last few years, the school district has lost experienced teachers to retirement and scrambled to replace them, usually with far less-experienced teachers.
This problem is not unique to Steamboat Springs and is only expected to worsen in the coming years. Basically, the National Education Association predicts the current crop of experienced, veteran teachers will all retire in the next 10 years, and if current trends hold true, there won't be nearly enough teachers to replace them.
According to national statistics, 29 percent of all teachers leave the profession in the first three years, and nearly 40 percent leave in the first five years. According to a recent study at the University of Pennsylvania, the annual turnover rate among teachers is 13.2 percent, two points higher than the turnover rate of 11 percent for all professions.
Asked why they leave, teachers cite personal reasons most frequently they want to stay home and raise a family or they are relocating because their spouses have new jobs. But teachers who left the profession also frequently cite comparably low salaries, poor working conditions and increasingly difficult student behavior.
At Steamboat Springs High School last year, Principal Dave Schmid had to replace 16 teachers, nearly a third of his staff. Principals could face similar scenarios this year in addition to the 11 who have already announced their retirements, the school district likely will lose more teachers to relocation and career changes.
The truth is, even though the local district has worked to make teacher salaries more competitive, teachers still find it difficult to live on what they make in Steamboat Springs, which has the eighth-highest cost of living of any school district in the state.
Fortunately, the community has been supportive, approving a tax increase for a cost-of-living adjustment for teachers last fall.
Currently, the school district is working on a long-range teacher salary plan that incorporates that pay increase. That plan will be key in determining Steamboat's ability to recruit and retain teachers in the future.
In the meantime, years of valuable teaching knowledge will continue to exit.
A farewell party will be held Saturday for the current batch of retiring teachers. It's an opportunity to stop by and thank them for doing something fewer and fewer people seem willing to do make a career out of educating youths.