The Payson Unified School District has effectively let go of 18 non-teaching employees, part of a far-reaching overhaul of staffing.
The changes have put teeth in Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s proposed overhaul that calls for cutting districtwide staffing by 30 people, despite reducing average class sizes to between 20 and 24 depending on the grade level.
So far, the reductions have mostly hit clerical staff and classroom aides, since the administrative staffing has actually increased.
In April, when Hitchcock presented the staffing model to the board, he said not to expect a rash of layoffs and said the district would move toward the new staffing model over time. But the district has already moved to implement the new staffing model. First, it added new district positions and student achievement specialists at several school sites. Now, 18 hourly employees have not been offered employment for the 2013-14 school year. That number may increase by the next school board meeting on June 5. However, Hitchcock said those employees can apply for eight new jobs created to implement the new test-score-oriented approach.
Hitchcock explained that a new student/staff ratio in the budget changed everything.
Since 2006-07, the district’s enrollment has dropped by 20 percent, said Hitchcock. “Student enrollment defines revenue,” he said. “This has not always been linked to the staffing model.”
This year, Hitchcock gave each principal a budget for full-time staff. Principals assigned positions to priorities like student achievement teachers, counselors, teachers, clerical, custodial, technology and specialized staff.
Once the FTE budget ran out, principals started cutting.
The staffing model adopted in April suggests the upheaval will continue, except in the district office, which will add a position in the technology department.
The proposed PUSD prototype staffing model projects the need for eight fewer employees at Payson Elementary School (PES), 10 fewer at Julia Randall Elementary (JRE), 11 fewer at Rim Country Middle School (RCMS), four fewer at Payson High School (PHS), and 1.2 fewer at Payson Center for Success (PCS).
With enrollment projected to drop to 2,366 students, the school sites will take the staffing hits.
The staffing model doesn’t break down the reductions by category. However, reaching the class size models included in the staffing model would in theory require more teachers — not fewer. The 20 to 24 students per class goal compares to class sizes closer to 26-32 at present, based on average class size calculations presented when the district boosted class sizes after closing Frontier Elementary School.
“Class sizes are a balancing act,” said Hitchcock.
He said if some classes like AP physics and calculus don’t have enough students, principals might combine classes. But that requires finding teachers with the certifications to teach the merged classes.
Hitchcock said the district must take a creative approach. “We’ll have growing pains to get there,” he said.
The staffing model does call for new science, math and English teachers at the high school, but no one knows how it will play out because the staffing shuffle is not over said Hitchcock.
All PUSD teachers received a new contract by mid-May. By statute they have 15 working days to sign the contract. Until that time, Hitchcock said he doesn’t know for sure who will return.
So far, Jeff Cochran and Marisa Murray from RCMS and Carolyn Crisp from JRE have submitted letters of resignation.
At school sites, the student-staff ratio will increase from a high of 26 percent at the middle school to a low of 7 percent at the high school. Districtwide, the administration plans to increase the student-to-full-time-staff ratio from 8.4 students per staff to 9.6 or 11.1 — a roughly 10 percent increase in the number of students per employee.
“A ratio of 8 (students) to 1 (staff) is not sustainable unless you have unlimited resources,” said Hitchcock. “For a district our size to have 9.6 to 11.1 (students per staff) is sustainable.”
The staffing model would cut the payroll from 288.5 full time equivalent positions to 258.5 FTEs — a reduction of about 12 percent.
The staffing model assumes a 6 percent enrollment decline to 2,366. The model assumes the following average class sizes: 22 at PES (grades K-2); 24 at JRE (grades 3-5); 22 at RCMS (grades 6-8); 21 at PHS (grades 9-12).
All of the staffing changes are happening without an inkling of what the state will budget to schools. Gov. Jan Brewer had proposed small, carefully targeted increases for K-12 schools for the first time in several years. But the state Legislature refused to adopt Gov. Brewer’s budget because it included a federally-funded addition of about 400,000 people to the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
The Senate last week finally adopted a version of the governor’s budget. The House has yet to act on either the Senate’s or the governor’s versions of the budget.
However, the district has still had to abide by the state-imposed budget deadlines.
“It’s what, May 30th? And we still don’t have a state budget,” said Hitchcock. “The district, teachers and students will be assessed differently and by the way, we have less money. The Legislature says, ‘Better figure out a new way to spend your money.’”