Parents group blames Colorado school district leadership for 25% staff turnover

A Colorado school district has been losing its teachers at an alarming rate due to the toxic culture created by its leadership, a local parents group says.

Stand Up For Manitou (SUFM), made up of at least 40 families from Manitou Springs School District 14, is searching for the reasons for the major staffing turnover of nearly 25% the last two years – a departure of more than 100 teachers, according to a report from the group.

When the school district reportedly ignored the parents’ request to conduct a survey of departed teachers on the matter, SUFM members did it themselves.

The results identified two main causes for teachers leaving.

“Unfortunately, it showed it’s the district culture that has caused these people to leave – and district leadership,” member H’Krih Shelhamer told local media.

Although the exodus was happening during the pandemic, COVID-19 concerns didn’t make the top 10 reasons why surveyed teachers left, and salary concerns were not reported as frequently as SUFM anticipated, the group says.

“What we want now is, we want to see the board of education acting on that information,” Shelhamer said. “It is up to them to do their job, which is making sure that our education system is protected and that the teachers that are working in that district and that system are protected.” 

SUFM’s survey results, with data gathered from Colorado Open Records Act requests, show the turnover jumped drastically in 2021.

“In one year Manitou went from the lowest-turnover rate of all districts in the region to the highest,” the group’s report states. “In fiscal years 2020 and 2019 Manitou had the lowest turnover rate in the region and in fiscal years 2021 and 2022 it had the highest rate in the region.” 

Some in the district have argued the parents’ group was just fielding the opinions of former disgruntled employees and a few angry parents. But after the group spoke up during Monday night’s school board meeting, current employees also reportedly spoke to SUFM – and submitted letters anonymously for fear of retaliation – about a “pattern of dishonest behavior by the district.”

District Superintendent Elizabeth Domangue appears to be listening, too, and even thanked the “former employees” for the information:

“We thank these former employees for bringing this to our attention. While we are aware of many reasons some employees have left the district (more than 1-2 years ago), this information provides another data point for improvement. We know that there are always opportunities to grow and feedback is helpful. I invite former employees to meet to discuss any concerns or thoughts that would be helpful for progress. My door is always open, and I am always happy to talk in hallways, driveways, games, community events, etc.”

SUFM’s push to solve the issue appears to be paying off.

“We are just a parent group. We have our own children within the district, and our goal is to help the staff to feel supported,” member Brenda Holmes-Stanciu told a local news station.