BUSINESS QUARTERLY: Schools, hospital look to hire, retain employees

Franklin Pierce University student Connor Everidge presides over a math class at Rindge Memorial School while student-teaching in 2022, as part of a cooperative program between Franklin Pierce and the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District.

Franklin Pierce University student Connor Everidge presides over a math class at Rindge Memorial School while student-teaching in 2022, as part of a cooperative program between Franklin Pierce and the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District. STAFF FILE PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

By BILL FONDA

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 01-23-2024 8:57 AM

Modified: 01-25-2024 9:00 AM


Looking ahead to the 2023-2024 school year, Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Reuben Duncan said the district would like to add six to 10 teachers – a couple math teachers, a science teacher, several special education teachers and likely another STEM teacher – along with a replacement for a retiring elementary teacher.

He said it’s a low-to-medium year in terms of numbers of hires in the district, which has approximately 260 employees.

“We’ve had years where we’ve had to hire many more,” he said.

As the district looks to fill positions, sources for potential hires include the district’s close relationship with Franklin Pierce, the schools having formed a partnership in 2022 that includes student-teaching opportunities. The partnership expanded in 2023 with internship opportunities in Jaffrey-Rindge schools for Franklin Pierce graduate students.

“We’ve been fortunate to hire some of these individuals,” Duncan said.

For paraprofessionals and support staff, Duncan said the district has found success through job fairs, and that signs on the side of the road have piqued people’s interest in those fairs.

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However, Duncan said hiring is only part of the process. The district is also working on its onboarding procedures, “so when people come into the district, they feel like they belong to a district that’s moving in a really positive direction.”

“It’s not just getting people in the door,” Duncan said.

As important as hiring is, Duncan said retaining a high percentage of staff may be even more important. Work toward that end includes strengthening mentoring, keeping strong professional development programs and helping staff who want to improve and advance in the profession.

Another step in that direction is when the School Board gave the go-ahead to offer child care for staff members.

“That’s been a great benefit for staff and provided some of our students a learning option, which is nice,” Duncan said.

Although the district is not looking to fill a lot of positions in the upcoming school year, Duncan said those positions are in high demand.

“Those are difficult positions to fill because of shortages in all of those areas,” he said.

For part-time or temporary positions, Duncan said the district will look for retired people, but if the district can’t find certified people for jobs, it will work on getting them alternative certification, which requires a lot of work.

“You put a lot of time and resources into something that may not work out,” he said.

Duncan also said housing is “absolutely” an issue both in terms of availability and affordability, especially for younger people who may just be starting out, and then their needs may change once they have children.

Although Duncan said Jaffrey-Rindge has worked to keep salaries competitive, another obstacle the district faces is being so close to the Massachusetts border, as the district has lost staff who either live in Massachusetts or have opportunities later in their careers to become administrators.

“It’s hard to compete when we’re close to a state that tends to have higher starting salaries,” he said.

Another element in the hiring and retention mix for Jaffrey-Rindge is that unlike businesses, voters have to approve the district’s budget. The district operated under a default budget – consisting of the previous year’s budget, contracted or legally obligated increases and minus one-time costs – during the 2022-2023 school year after its proposal failed at the polls.

Leading up to last year’s vote on the budget, which passed with 54.5%, Duncan said that during the default year, the district cut seven teaching positions through attrition, and switched to a block scheduling model to avoid cutting programs.

The 2023-2024 budget proposal is approximately $31.8 million, roughly $1 million higher than the current budget and lower than the default budget of $31.9 million. In the interest of making sure students have what they need – including keeping pre-K, which had been funded through a grant, and expanding the Restorative Classroom program at Jaffrey Grade School for student struggling in a traditional classroom setting – Duncan said the district had to make reductions in other areas, including SAU staff.

“We tried to find areas that are relatively far from the classroom,” he said,

Hospital struggles to hire

According to John Sansone, vice president of human resources at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, the health care industry is facing staffing shortages, and MCH is no different.

“Since COVID, we have tripled the amount of positions that we have open in any given month,” he stated. “There are many reasons for this, main reasons being the pause on training in most hospitals during COVID, which caused a talent gap, people leaving the health care industry, burnout and arbitrarily inflating wages. We see 2024 as continuously being a challenge to recruit and retain staff.”

Monadnock Community Hospital has 560 employees, and is seeking medical assistants, registered nurses, environmental services personnel to ensure facilities are clean and maintained, front office staff and physicians. The hospital uses an online application process and partners with outside recruiting agencies that Sansone stated “understand the mission/values of our hospital.”

In addition, human resources generalists partner with managers  in the recruitment process in order to find the best candidates.

Like Duncan, Sansone stated that retention goes “hand-in-hand” with hiring.

“We are focusing on retaining employees which impacts staffing. New hires are looking for ample training, resources and support in their new jobs. Having a good onboarding experience is crucial to  retaining employees,” he stated.