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MARICOPA — In spite of the challenging school reopening this year due to COVID-19, it seems Maricopa Unified School District has remained on a steady incline in both teacher hires and retention.

Data acquired by PinalCentral shows that in the 2019-20 school year, the district had a total of 388 teachers. Of those, there were 41 resignations. In the previous years, the district had less staff but more resignations. In the 2018-19 school year, teacher resignations hit a high of 49, while the years previously had between 42 and 47.

Teacher employment has also been on the rise in Maricopa, increasing from 295 teachers in 2015-16 to last school year. In March, MUSD approved a 6% across-the-board raise for its staff, continuing a trend of raises to keep the positions “competitive.”

Data from this current school year was not included, but teachers voiced their concerns during call to the public at a Sept. 23 board meeting. One teacher told the board there was a crisis in teacher morale, pointing to recent losses.

“The high school alone lost two amazing teachers last week and you need to fix things now before we lose more,” she wrote.

A report released last month by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association finds that schools surveyed were able to fill just 28% of the vacancies they had due to retirement and other reasons that teachers leave their jobs.

That’s not to say there weren’t adults standing in front of classrooms. But districts had to make up the difference, largely with having their current teachers work extra hours or using long-term substitutes.

Justin Wing, the organization’s immediate past president, acknowledged that filling vacancies has been a perennial problem in Arizona schools. But Wing said there’s something different in this year’s report: the number of experienced teachers who resigned as the school year began.

In “normal” years, Wing said there always are new teachers who quickly conclude that the job isn’t what they expected and decide to pursue another career. This year, he said, the problem appears to be directly related to COVID-19.

The 145 school districts and charter schools that responded to the survey reported 751 teachers leaving at the beginning of the year.

Of that, 326 of those resignations were teachers who said they were quitting outright or retiring while citing the coronavirus as the prime reason. And another 342 said they were taking a year off, without pay, due to COVID-19.

The districts also reported 633 other non-teaching staff who resigned or retired, citing the virus as the primary reason.

Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.

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Katie Sawyer covers Maricopa and the surrounding area for PinalCentral, including city, education, business, crime and more. She can be reached at ksawyer@pinalcentral.com.

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