Wednesday, July 18, 2018

School districts increase staff to help students, improve outcomes

Since 1998, the number of school district employees in Kansas has increased by over 9,500 full time equivalent positions, or about 16 percent. Student enrollment increased by over 22,000, or about five percent.

Schools have added staff at a faster rate than students for three basic reasons:
  • Reducing general class size, which helps improve student learning.
  • Providing more intensive instruction for students with special needs, most significantly due to new requirements and more identification of special education students, but also for additional services to other at-risk students. The number of special needs students has grown much faster than regular enrollment.
  • Additional expectations for schools such as technology, school safety and social services; and expanding transportation and nutrition programs.
There is strong evidence these investments have paid off:
  • A higher percentage of students are graduating high school, the highest on record.
  • More students are prepared for college based on ACT tests.
  • More students are entering and completing postsecondary education than ever before.
  • These changes have occurred despite a large increase in students who have traditionally been less likely to graduate, to prepare for and to complete postsecondary education (low income, disabled and minority students).
  • Data shows that the most successful states in student outcomes have more staff employed for their student populations than less successful states.
School employment has changed as follows:
  • The biggest increase in school staff was for instruction, especially in early childhood and special education.
  • Schools added more support for student social and emotional needs and school safety.
  • Districts boosted support for improving curriculum, instruction and technology.
  • Principals have been reduced while other school staff increased.
  • Districts reduced maintenance staff and added to transportation.
  • Districts reduced general administration and central services support staff.

How have school employment positions changed by type of function?

From school district reports, the Kansas State Department of Education provides the number of all school districts employees for each district by job titles in just two categories: certified (or licensed) and non-certified.

KASB categorizes job titles and numbers by school district budget “functions,” based on KASB’s assessment of how the position title compares that function. Other organizations have grouped these staff titles in different ways. Each is a judgment call.

(Note: these positions are reported as “full-time equivalent” or FTE positions; in other words, a person who worked on half-time would be considered 0.5 FTE. Because many school jobs are less than full time, the total number of employees is higher.)

The following chart shows that about 75 percent of new positions (about 7,000) have been in direct instruction of students, divided between licensed teachers and non-licensed instructional staff including special education paraprofessionals and teacher aides.

About 2,200 positions were added in student support (such as counselors, nurses, speech pathologists, social workers, etc.) and instructional support (libraries, curriculum support, and technology support). There have been small increases in school administration and the combined total of operations and maintenance, transportation, and food service; and a decrease in general (district) administration, central services like the business office and all other positions.

A table that shows how KASB assigns all KSDE-reported positions in these function categories, the number of FTE employees in 1998 and 2018, the change in number and the change percent is provided at the end of this report.

What do staff changes show about school district programs and priorities?

The biggest increase in school staff was for instruction, especially in early childhood and special education.

Out of over 7,000 new positions, more than 1,300 have been for early learning, including 775 kindergarten teachers as districts expanded all day kindergarten; 425 pre-kindergarten teachers as preschool programs were added, and 163 in Parents as Teacher programs. In special education, 683 teachers were added, along with 2,758 paraprofessionals. Another 853 regular classroom aids were added.

Special education paras and classroom aide positions have grown faster than teachers for three reasons. First, Kansas has long faced a teacher shortage in some areas, especially in special education. In many cases, more teachers are simply not available – and that problem is getting worse. Second, paras and aides can take over “non-teaching” duties from teachers, allowing them to focus on instruction and more individualized work with students. Third, paras and aides are not licensed and have lower salaries, offering a more cost-effective staffing option in some cases.

Schools added more support for student social and emotional needs and school safety.

Out of nearly 1,100 increased student support positions, schools added about 400 counselors, social workers and other social services staff, 179 nurses, and 78 school resources officers. Also added were over 200 audiologists, psychologists and speech pathologists, and about one clerical support position for every 10 professional positions.

Districts boosted support for improving curriculum, instruction and technology.

Out of 1,077 positions in instructional support, districts added over 950 positions in technology, titles that didn’t even exist in 1998, to accommodate the shift to internet-based learning, individual student computers and wired classroom. Districts also added over 240 instructional coordinators and supervisors and curriculum specialists to improve teaching and focus on curriculum standards and added 79 library media aides while cutting 307 library media specialists.

Principals have been reduced while other school staff increased.

Districts cut 80 principal positions but added 174 assistant principals, reflecting closure of smaller buildings and adding assistant positions that usually work in areas like student discipline, activities and staff supervision.

Districts reduced maintenance staff and added to transportation.

Schools have found ways to operate and maintain buildings with less staff, reducing positions by over 100. There has been almost no change in school food service total staff despite serving more students. (Districts may also be outsourcing some of the functions.) Districts have increased school transportation staff as more students are bused for reasons of safety, school attendance and expanding school choice.

Districts reduced general administration and central services support staff.

Districts have eliminated over 40 net superintendent, assistant and association superintendent positions and nearly 350 clerical and business support positions, while adding less than 100 business managers, directors, coordinators and supervisors.

Have districts added more “management” positions than other positions?

In some areas, districts have reduced positions like clerical, food service and operations and maintenance, while adding more positions titled director, coordinator or supervisor. It is important to note those positions do not mean a new “layer of bureaucracy.” These positions are often not exclusively “supervisory:” the person may be doing considerable “hands on” work and be all or most of the district’s staff in the area, but have a title and salary reflecting higher skills and responsibility.

These changes reflect larger trends in the U.S. economy: increasing technological and other efficiencies are reducing lower skills jobs and shifting more duties to higher skill, more independent and “quasi-management” positions. It has been reported that virtually all net employment growth since the great recession of 2008 has been in higher skill jobs. School districts have followed the same pattern as the private sector.

How do changes in school funding impact school employees?

For decades until 2009, Kansas school funding increased faster than inflation most years, which allowed districts to add employees, provide more individualized focus on students and expand programs, which in turn increased educational attainment, earnings and state economic growth. From 2009 to 2017, school funding was flat or declining compared to inflation and school staff was reduced, and student achievement outcomes weakened. Staff numbers began to recover last year when the Legislature provided increased funding.

School employment has not grown uniformly. The chart below shows employees by function annually since 1998. Positions increased with higher school funding around 2000 and after the Montoy school finance case in 2005 but were reduced when school funding was cut following the post-911 recession and great recession of 2008, and during the block grant period that froze funding.
Most of the long-term increase in school employment has been in instruction: teachers, aides, paras and a few other positions involved in direct instruction of students. Other areas of increase are student and instructional support. Most other areas have been flat or declining. General administration and central services are at the bottom and represent a very portion of school employees.

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