RPS approves stipends and hiring bonuses to attract new teachers

George Copeland Jr. | 7/21/2022, 6 p.m.
Richmond Public Schools is taking big steps to find new teachers for the upcoming school year.
Mr. Kamras

Richmond Public Schools is taking big steps to find new teachers for the upcoming school year.

In a 6-1 vote Monday night, the Richmond School Board approved new hiring incentives in an effort to address a shortage in school staff across the city.

The incentives include a $6,000 stipend for new teachers willing to relocate from at least 50 miles away from Richmond, a $4,000 signing bonus for teachers in critical areas with two years of experience, and a $2,000 signing bonus for all new teachers.

According to RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras, the school system hopes the incentives will help recruit 176 teachers before the 2022-23 school year. Federal stimulus funds will be used for the incentives, which come with a clawback clause in case any new teacher leaves early.

“This is not a problem that is unique to RPS,” said Mr. Kamras, noting similar shortages are happening across Virginia and the country at large. “I would like us to be a leader in solving it.”

Among the teacher vacancies at RPS, 63 are in elementary schools, 65 are in middle schools and 48 are in high schools, with River City Middle School having the most vacancies at 21. There are 222 vacancies for employees on teacher contracts, roughly double the number of vacancies last year.

According to board member Jonathan Young, 4th District, these vacancies account for roughly a fourth of all RPS teachers.

The sole dissenting vote in approving the incentives came from School Board Member Mariah White, 2nd District, who expressed concern that they wouldn’t address the root causes for the vacancies she’s heard from teachers. Some teachers believe the incentives might benefit certain educators over others and leave “hard-to-field” schools unable to bring in more full-time teaching staff.

“It’s not because of compensation — most of them are leaving because they’re being mistreated somehow,” Ms. White said, “and I think as a board or as an administration that should be looked into.”

Other concerns raised by board members included improving how RPS investigates and resolves teacher retention issues, the steep competition for qualified employees, and addressing the gap in institutional knowledge created by the vacancies.

In other business, the Board voted 6-1 to approve a new 2022-2023 school calendar, with only Mr. Young dissenting. The RPS academic year will now end on June 9, two weeks earlier than previously scheduled. As part of the approval, school closures have been reverted back to learning days and the district will reopen on Jan. 2, 2023.

In addition, there were unanimous votes to establish a flexible arts curriculum for George Wythe High School and to begin securing historic tax credits for Fox Elementary School.

The School Board also unanimously voted to approve a new garage lease for district buses in a facility at 326 East 6th Street, after the bus garage on Chamberlayne Avenue caught fire in June. This facility would be a short-term use, with plans for a more permanent site still under development. RPS School Board Vice Chair Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, and School Board Member Dawn Page, 8th District, were not present for the meeting.

Mr. Kamras said that if RPS can’t find all the necessary teachers within the next six weeks, it will use substitute teachers, combine classrooms and employ other options to ensure the school year moves forward. He also acknowledged that the incentives alone wouldn’t fully address the structural problems RPS is facing, but stressed that they would be an important benefit to potential employees, and could generate enough attention to attract teachers who might not otherwise seek employment with RPS.

“I do want us to be bold,” Mr. Kamras said. “I do want us to try to put everything we possibly can on the table to fill these vacancies.”