Frustrated by hard-to-fill teacher vacancies, Wichita district is offering cash rewards

Fliers in Wichita schools advertise a new program that offers cash awards to employees who help fill hard-to-staff teacher vacancies.
Fliers in Wichita schools advertise a new program that offers cash awards to employees who help fill hard-to-staff teacher vacancies. Courtesy photo

Taking a lesson from high-tech private industry, the Wichita school district has launched a referral bonus program, offering employees cash to help find teachers for hard-to-fill vacancies.

“Our employees have always been a great referral and recruiting resource. They want to recruit people they’d like to work with,” said Shannon Krysl, director of human resources for Wichita schools.

“So we’re saying: If you have pals out there who would be a good addition to our district, we’re going to reward you for finding those folks.”

The new program, which begins in January, offers employees up to $300 for recruiting teachers for hard-to-fill positions. Bonuses are $100 for elementary teachers, $200 for secondary math or science teachers and $300 for special-education teachers.

Here’s how it works: A Wichita district employee urges a friend to apply for a teaching job. On the application, the friend lists that person as the referral source. If the friend gets the job and finishes one year in good standing – having his or her contract renewed by the district – the employee who made referral gets the cash reward.

Money for the bonuses will come out of the district’s recruiting budget, Krysl said. Part of that fund comes from fines against teachers who resign after the statutory deadline each year.

Teachers who fail to notify the district that they intend to resign by the annual deadline – June 1 – pay a $1,000 penalty, plus $100 per week after the deadline, up to a $5,000 maximum. The Wichita district’s fund from those penalties is about $100,000, Krysl said.

Like school districts nationwide, Wichita is experiencing a shortage of certified teachers, particularly for hard-to-fill spots such as math, science and special education.

The district currently has 29 vacancies in special education, Krysl said. Thirteen elementary teaching slots are being filled by long-term substitutes, including retired teachers. There are more than a dozen more vacancies in middle and high schools – most of them in math or science, she said.

That’s down from about 80 vacancies earlier this year.

But continued retirements and a drop in the number of college students pursuing education degrees means Wichita’s teacher shortage “is going to get worse before it gets better,” Krysl said.

“For at least the next three years, it’s going to be really, really tough,” she said.

The new referral program was inspired by similar efforts in the private sector, Krysl said, particularly among high-tech industries. She didn’t know whether other Kansas school districts offer referral incentives.

“We’re willing to give just about anything a try and see how it goes,” she said.

Holly Morgan, kindergarten teacher at Peterson Elementary, has been piloting a new reading program called Journeys. (Dec. 12, 2017)

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias