NEW BEDFORD — School Superintendent Pia Durkin plans to review principals' salaries to address a perceived problem with employee retention in the district, she told the School Committee on Monday.

"We are not as competitive as we should be," she said.

At the same time, Durkin maintains that overall employee retention — a hot issue in the School Committee election earlier this month — is no worse in New Bedford than in other urban districts.

She showed the committee a slide with 2015 retention rates for a dozen school districts, including some SouthCoast suburbs and six cities. The data came from the state.

Among the communities she cited, New Bedford fell near the middle of the pack, at 83 percent. That's higher than Holyoke, Fall River, Springfield and Wareham. Fall River's number was 76 percent, according to the slide.

School Committee member Joaquim "Jack" Livramento pointed out how high Brockton's rate was: 92 percent. He suggested talking to Brockton to learn about what works for them.

Something fundamental has changed about how principals move from job to job, said committee member Lawrence Finnerty, a retired teacher and administrator.

"I think the dynamic that disturbs me the most ... [is] you never saw a principal leave in the middle of the year. We never saw someone who had been around for a long time suddenly just leave," he said.

One example is the principal of John Avery Parker Elementary School, Lynn Dessert, who left Oct. 27 for a job in a non-urban district.

Low unemployment and other factors contribute, but that's not all, he said. Years ago, if a principal left in the middle of the year, it prompted people to examine what happened.

"And now it's, 'Well, they're going to become a principal somewhere else,' so that place lost the principal. And it just goes on and on and on," he said.

The district attempts to conduct anonymous exit surveys, but participation is low, said Heather Emsley, the human resources director. She is considering possible incentives to get better responses, she said.

Durkin said other issues that affect teacher retention and recruitment include a difficult licensure process for special education teachers — five tests are required, she said — and a lack of licensure reciprocity with neighboring Rhode Island.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, chairman ex officio of the School Committee, suggested the city could advocate at the state level for a reciprocity agreement with Rhode Island.

Such an agreement would be especially helpful in areas of high need, such as special education and math, Durkin said.

She said the New Bedford schools already use a number of strategies to boost retention, including offering training opportunities for teachers who want to become administrators or move into teaching English as a second language.

Follow Jennette Barnes on Twitter @jbarnesnews.