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Last year, Riverdale's Good Foundations Academy lost six of its 25 teachers, according to Executive Director Brent Petersen.

The exodus was due in part to Hill Air Force Base families leaving the area, he said, and made for some "outlandish" retention data.

But Good Foundations also has a qualification problem, which Petersen attributes to the school's practice of recruiting teachers from outside Utah.

In 2013 and 2014, less than 85 percent of the charter's teachers were appropriately licensed or endorsed for the subjects they teach.

"Goal No. 1 on my side of things is to retain these teachers and get them qualified licenses ASAP," Petersen said.

For Utah's charter schools, a qualification gap is the rule, rather than the exception.

Out of 85 charters evaluated by the State Charter School Board in March, 14 met the standard of a fully qualified teaching staff.

Those schools also had an average retention rate of 75 percent or a loss of 1 in 4 teachers each year.

Ten schools were listed as being "far below" the qualification standard, meaning less than 85 percent of teachers had appropriate licensing and qualifications.

In all schools statewide, 2.5 percent of teachers are unqualified; that's roughly 750 educators throughout Utah.

Travis Rawlings, a licensing coordinator with the state Office of Education, said it's inexcusable that 2.5 percent aren't properly qualified — let alone the 8-in-10 ratio at some charter schools.

"There's almost no reason not to be qualified," he said. "There will always be one or two, but to get to 85 percent — that's a significant oversight."

Those who can, teach • Rosanna Weeks, principal of Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts, said the word "unqualified" is a misnomer.

A trained educator can be deficient on paper because their training doesn't cover every class they teach, she said.

"You can have a master's degree and still not be considered highly qualified," she said.

And Petersen said the best candidate for a teaching job isn't always a licensed educator.

"We look for a very specific breed of person who comes through our doors that is passionate and willing to learn," he said.

But hiring someone without a teaching degree or asking a science instructor to teach wood shop doesn't automatically result in an "unqualified" label, Rawlings said.

Educators working toward licenses or sorting out licensure issues are granted provisional status by the state education office.

"I think our goal should be 100 percent," Rawlings said.

Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said the 100 percent standard is "aspirational" and, ultimately, unattainable.

"In the course of getting that license, there are a whole host of hoops that you end up jumping through," he said.

Doing the math • In addition to employing unqualified teachers, the average charter school loses one out of every four teachers each year, according to state Charter School Board data.

Each charter school is its own school district, making retention rates difficult to compare with traditional districts made up of multiple schools.

Utah's public school system hires between 2,500 and 3,000 teachers each year, according to state Office of Education data.

That means an effective retention rate of 88 percent to 92 percent statewide, Rawlings said.

"I think teacher retention in all schools is concerning," he said.

Canyon Grove Academy had a four-year average retention rate of 30 percent, according to the board report. And Mana Academy Charter School retained 6 percent of its teachers in 2014.

Rawlings said the same features that define a charter school could contribute to high turnover rates.

Charter school teachers are at-will employees, and charter schools are not required to participate in the state retirement system.

"They're different, and they're intended to be different," he said. "Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view."

Petersen said funding and salaries play a role in low teacher retention at charters.

The starting annual salary at Good Foundations is between $28,000 and $30,000 he said, compared to $36,577 at nearby Weber School District.

"In order to be competitive with Weber and Ogden, we'd have to cut a lot of programming to pay our teachers what would be equal," he said.

Making the grade • In August, two charter schools voluntarily shut down after being tapped for closure by the state Charter School Board.

An additional four charter schools are in a probationary state, according to the board's executive director, Marlies Burns.

She said the charter performance reports are intended to highlight trends on budgetary and governance issues.

If a school falls "far below" a standard, like those schools where less than 85 percent of teachers are considered qualified, it triggers extra scrutiny from board staff.

"If it's a 'far below,' we do look at it no matter what, because far below is far below," she said.

Van Tassell said the recent closures and the board's examination of charter performance is indicative of the value of nontraditional schools.

He said problems with teacher retention, qualifications and various performance measures exist elsewhere, but only charters are placed on the chopping block.

"Charter schools really do hold themselves up to a higher degree of scrutiny than noncharter schools," Van Tassell said. "You can't look back and identify, in my memory, a noncharter school that closed for performance reasons." Utah charter schools with less than 85 percent qualified teachers


Aristotle Academy

Bear River Charter School

C.S. Lewis Academy

Gateway Preparatory Academy

Good Foundations Academy

Mana Academy Charter School

Moab Charter School

Pacific Heritage Academy

Salt Lake Arts Academy

Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts


C.S. Lewis Academy

Dual Immersion Academy

Good Foundations Academy

Lincoln Academy

Merit College Preparatory Academy

Pacific Heritage Academy

Rockwell Charter High School

Spectrum Academy

Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts

Uintah River High

Utah County Academy of Sciences

Source: Utah State Charter School Board Lowest 2014 teacher retention rates for Utah charter schools

Mana Academy Charter School: 6 percent

Pioneer High School for the Performing Arts: 21 percent

Canyon Grove Academy: 35 percent

Jefferson Academy: 39 percent

Entheos Academy Magna: 40 percent

Walden School of Liberal Arts: 47 percent

Endeavor Hall: 48 percent

Source: Utah State Charter School Board