Monday, November 24, 2008

Employee Benefits and Staff Retention

At a recent budget meeting, our staff came to the realization that our faculty is certainly divided into two camps. Camp one consists of those staff members who have been lifers with twenty to twenty five plus years of service. Camp two are the faculty members with five or fewer years experience. What was staring us right in the face was the lack of the middle group. Where were our faculty in the thirty to fifty year age group with ten to twenty years experience? They seemed to be missing.

We went back and poured over employee records and discovered that a number of faculty seem to disappear in the five to seven years experience range. What we wanted to know was why? As any school or organization knows, to lose top talent and find worthy replacements is a significant obstacle. Faculty with long tenures help shape the culture of the school and contribute to a common experience that graduates remember fondly. These long standing groups often contain seasoned veterans who contribute endless hours towards the school's culture as moderators, coaches, and mentors. Developing their replacements should be of the utmost importance.

We noticed that the exodus of young talented faculty coincided with changes to our benefits plan. Our diocese as many if not all across the country when faced with rising health care costs chose out of necessity to pass a portion of the cost onto employees. Our family monthly premium went from $0 to $467 a month in a matter of three quick years and lead to an exodus of male teachers with young families. Many of these teachers were among the most talented of the staff and filled a large part of our coaching and moderator duties. In addition, our pay sagged to below 70% of the local public school before a diocesan mandated policy to pay 80% of the local public school was enacted. As openings become available each year, our applicant pool continues to consist of newbies right out of college and retiring public school teachers looking for a few more years of employment as they double dip from their public school pension. Some of these retirees are great finds, but many of them are at a place where they have no intention of doing the extra work that goes into running a high school.

As our senior group is set to retire over the next ten years, it is quickly becoming one of our priorities to retain our current crop of young talent and to attract the best of the best from other schools. We are taking for granted that without restructuring our tuition ( a paltry $4,400 a year) we will not be able to reduce health care costs or greatly increase the base pay above the 80% we are required to pay. We are, however, experimenting with a series of "graduated" benefits to push faculty retention that have a smaller impact on the bottom line.

Our plan is basically as follows. To encourage long time faculty retention, the more years someone puts in the better the benefit package becomes. In addition, these benefits are tied to developmental marks in a teacher's career. To clarify, we are just beginning to develop this plan. To encourage families and faculty retention we are exploring the costs of offering on-site greatly discounted child care for the children of our teachers. The average family can expect to pay between $400 to $700 a month in child care at a private day care center. By using our child development class and subsidizing the salary of a full time day care coordinator with the allocation of a significant space for this endeavor, this benefit could greatly increase retention of young faculty. As a young faculty member with a family, paying $100-$200 a month for subsidized high quality on site day care would be a huge advantage especially given the fact that the center's schedule will mirror the schools.

Another factor we have looked at is reducing tuition for our faculty. We currently offer a 50% reduction on our high school tuition. Granted our tuition is already laughably low, but if we can crunch the numbers and offer free tuition for our teachers' children, this benefit would go a long way in stretching the modest salaries and producing goodwill.

For faculty on the older edge, these benefits might not mean that much. For our faculty with 20 to 25 year experience, we are looking at reducing the full course load from six to five sections and adding a higher match to our 403b plan. In addition, we will look at offering free lunch to our faculty. We've also toyed with the idea of adding free babysitting tied to our Christian Service Program.

As with all endeavors there is probably something we are glaringly missing and I am sure our first round of attempts will piss off as many people as it pleases, but thus is the joy of trying something new. A graduated benefits plan while leaving alone the health care and salary issue may at the least increase the quality of life for our faculty and lead to higher retention rates.

Another issue we struggle with is the distinction of who to apply these benefits to. For example, are teachers the ones making the bigger sacrifice? Are our secretaries, bus drivers, and maintenance workers making similar wages to their public school counterparts or not? Should we offer these benefits to them as well? Everyone contributes to the well-being of the school do they not? It takes a village to raise a child.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Attached below is a link to a benefits survey. On the upper left of the web page is a link to the live results as they come in. I am sure many of us face these same issues every day. Maybe collectively we can come up with a world-class plan that minimizes costs and increases happiness. Then again that is pretty idealist but I'd beg to offer that if anyone deserves it our teachers do.

Link to Survey: Faculty Benefit Survey Here


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I think its a great step in the right direction. Everything listed could help families so much!

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