School districts nationwide have been feeling similar staffing challenges as the rest of the U.S. marketplace.
Covid-19 restrictions combined with the rise in retirement income options are causing seasoned and experienced school workers with the most institutional knowledge of their education organizations to leave the workforce in droves.
This first began to happen with schools IT support personnel and student data tracking professionals.
Now the same or similar factors are causing a huge shift for school district Superintendents. According to a recent survey by the RAND Corporation, HALF of current Superintendents are uncertain about their futures and are considering leaving their posts in the next few years, as reported in District Administration magazine on April 8, 2022. Some want to leave when they land a better job, and about 25 percent said they will likely leave their positions soon as contracts expire.
The financial consequences and student learning loss because of such key people stepping away can be uniquely catastrophic to any school district – because this is in addition to the Covid-19 era crisis the past few years where some of the highest qualified teachers, lower-level administrators and technology experts have already left school districts up in the air with fewer qualified replacement options.
In the arena of data management – which includes people who do state reporting, data-driven reporting and who track categories like free-and-reduced meal programs – this particular loss of institutional knowledge will eventually turn into loss of critical funding for districts if counteractions are not soon put in place.
Counteractions go beyond the HR department seeking new hires, but also include school districts utilizing vendors like Level Data, Inc. with data management software programs that make working with school data as easy as shopping online. This will allow for non-traditional IT workers to handle such core needs quickly and efficiently.
Several district leaders Level Data works with have suggested that the time to prepare for such institutional knowledge loss "was yesterday" and still others suggested "there was a tightening of the job market before Covid-19, but Covid put things on supersonic speed."
Throughout the 2021-22 school year, school district staff have announced that they are leaving their technology and data positions, at a high rate never seen before. A large percentage of these district workers have been in those positions since they were created during the mid-1990s when schools began adding computers. Now districts are 100% dependent on their complex data systems, not only for the education of their students but also for the state and federal reporting that determines each district's funding.
"Level Data works with about 10% of the districts in the country and we know of hundreds of these positions changing within our customer base," said Matt Betts, president of Level Data. "At scale, the impact will have a profound effect across the country. These are very hard-working folks who have been doing these data-focused jobs for a long time and are now saying, 'it's not worth it. I've got enough years of service in, I can retire now, without risking my health or getting sick.' They are also very conflicted about leaving, with most wanting to do what they can to prepare the districts for when they are gone but there is simply not enough time and/or resources to make the transition seamless.
"Now with the potential that Superintendents are planning mass exits as well, the leadership and guidance in so many areas like data-driven decision making, budgets and funding could be crippled without the helpful options that are offered to districts that they might not yet realize are available."
Level Data, Inc. is a software provider that helps school districts across the nation maintain the highest quality data, so it can be used for error-free state reporting submissions. In addition to driving funding, quality data allows educators to trust the accuracy of the multitude of reports required for advancing instruction and operational efficiency. District leaders need to focus more time on what really matters – educating students.
"Much of it is Covid-19 driven and the new world we live in is changing people's perspective," Betts added. "These are not entry level positions that are turning over. These are individuals with years and years of knowledge and experience that will be very difficult to replace. These roles have been filled by people who have been in the seats for a long time, and it will leave this enormous gap in each school district while they try to figure out how to be successful in state reporting, actually, data management in general."
Level Data's offerings to districts such as State Data Validation Suite (SDVS), Mass Data Validation, RealTime Reports (RTR), Mapping services and more options, are built for intuitive ease of use for the average school registrar, data analyst, student counselor, building principals and others to track and utilize data with no more difficulty than shopping online. This allows for people who lack strong institutional knowledge to be able to still complete some of the most important tasks of their predecessors because the duties have been simplified with computer software options.
Workers entering retirement in record numbers:
Dan Ralyea, Director of the South Carolina Department of Education's Office of Research Data Analysis, said the phenomenon of school districts losing tech directors and other data management and state reporting-type personnel is very real, to the tune of he sees it happening on a near-daily basis.
Some good news is that he agrees with current tech directors who say they don't feel all that guilty leaving their district with armloads of institutional knowledge because Level Data's technology integrations with PowerSchool will take care of the people left behind. Level Data is so easy to use that just having one gatekeeper moving forward can be avoided. Multiple school district staff like registrars, school counselors, principals, district admin and others can use Level Data's easy functions.
"But what Level Data really brings is a relationship, an understanding of the wants and needs – and the ability to mentor and foster those relationships so that as those transitions happen, Level Data can help walk people through them," Ralyea said. "Having a history of a strategic partnership with Level Data, not only did they make the load easier, and improve the data quality, but they are there to support the new people coming in (to the district or new job change)."
"The scope of services that Level Data offers helps make those transitions much easier."