During last night’s joint budget meeting, Superintendent Savastano and others made the claim that the projected drop of 59 students next year will not result in teacher reductions because that is only 4 students per grade level. This is a misleading oversimplification that obscures the challenges caused by enrollment declines. We should be setting a framework to deal with long term challenges that have not yet materialized (but are certain to) instead of focusing solely on justifying a yearly increase in the Property Tax Transfer (PTT).
This article is the first of a 2 part series. Here the focus is the present situation looking at next year. In part 2, we will look toward the future and the challenges we are going to face 5-10 years down the line.
2020/2021 School Year
The 59 student reduction for SY 20/21, like most years, is due to a much smaller kindergarten cohort entering the schools (185 projected) than the 12th grade class exiting (225). That difference accounts for 40 of the 59 projected losses. Next year, 5 of the first 6 grade levels (k-5) will be below 200 students. The implication behind presenting the total enrollment drop as an average per grade reduction is to obscure larger changes in some grade levels.
Because our recent kindergarten cohorts have been much smaller than the higher grade level cohorts, fewer sections are needed each year as those smaller classes rise through the system. As can be seen above, large discrepancies exist between K to 1st, 4th to 5th, and 6th to 7th grades. For instance, this year’s kindergarten (next year’s first grade) is 24 students smaller than the current 1st grade cohort. Assuming section counts transfer up, we will need one fewer 1st grade section than last year. Failing a sudden surge in kindergarten enrollments, this process will subtract one needed section each of the next several years.
The largest drop in sections due to this phenomena will occur in 5th grade. Those paying attention this past August will recall that the current 5th grade class (224) forced an ultimately unnecessary 10th section to be added at the last minute. The incoming 5th grade class for next year is the first of the now commonplace sub-200 cohorts (193) to enter BRMS. Assuming that cohort retains its size, we will require only 8 sections of 5th grade, a drop of 2 needed sections.
The superintendent is of course correct that an average drop of 4 students per grade does not require section reductions, but sections can and will be reduced because of the above facts. While this year’s budget is quite detailed, it obscures an important fact. In order to maintain current staffing levels, given a need for 4-5 fewer sections K-5, the district is proposing to ADD STAFF elsewhere.
The section reductions I outlined will be achieved via attrition (retirements), but, all else being equal, we would see a drop in the teacher count much higher than the 1.4 FTE’s currently proposed.
In order for the budget discussions to be truly transparent and honest, the district should reveal what new positions are being added and why they are necessary to achieve/maintain excellence.
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