A divided Richmond Public School Board last night lifted its freeze on teacher staffing changes, after superintendent Dana Bedden and his staff repeatedly warned that not doing so would both cost the district money it doesn't have and result in a class-scheduling nightmare.
The administration is now free to continue its plan to "level" staffing in the district's secondary schools to reach an average of 22 students per teacher per classroom. Some schools will end up with more teachers. Other schools willl lose both teachers and courses due to low enrollment. The district says teachers will be reassigned and no one will lose his or her job.
The school board last week froze so-called "leveling" after student and faculty outcry over the loss of teachers and elective courses across the district in the upcoming school year. The plan, not surprisingly, did find support among teachers whose class sizes are now reaching 30 to 35 students.
The board gave the administration the go-ahead in a 4-2 vote, with Glen Sturtevant, 1st district, and Shonda Harris Muhammed, 6th district, voting against allowing the process to continue. Both attended a community meeting last week at Albert Hill Middle School, where parents were angered the school would not offer certain electives next school year because the administration failed to make clear that if not enough students signed up, the classes would be dropped. Admitting poor communication, Bedden’s administration reopened the survey process to allow those parents to choose classes again. The mea culpa may mean the administration won’t meet a goal it set to have all schedules to students, parents and teachers before the start of next school year.
The staffing process was guided by student and parent feedback about course offerings, the administration says. The feedback determined which courses would be offered and how many teachers the district would need to cover them.Sturtevant was adamant that the board and administration “find a solution” to the electives issues, even if that mean starting from scratch on scheduling or having small class sizes. That's easier said than done, says Abe Jeffers, who oversees RPS middle and high school programs.
“To go back to zero, register students, build schedules again, and not have any chance to hire teachers based on not knowing what courses we’re going to offer, would be beyond the most able administrator,” Jeffers says.
Sturtevant suggested delaying the leveling for a year. Doing that would come at a cost, says Ralph Westbay, the district’s assistant superintendent of financial services.
Westbay told board members that if the administration did not continue leveling, the district could have to hire between 13 and 19 more teachers to reach a 22 to 1 student-teacher ratio. That would cost as much as $1.4 million. Given the unbalanced budget the board approved in May, the unforeseen costs would be difficult to manage, Westbay says.