Guest blogger Rebecca Sibilia is the director of fiscal strategy for StudentsFirst.
School leaders in cities, school districts, and states across the country continue to grapple with revenue shortfalls that often require teacher layoffs. Unfortunately, the impact of these layoffs is exacerbated when schools are required to use Last-In, First-Out (LIFO) policies, which require layoffs to be issued in the order of reverse seniority, because such rules mean more teachers, of all skill levels, will lose their jobs.
While the problems of quality-blind layoffs that force good teachers out of the classroom are obvious, the way these policies exacerbate the disruptive impact of teacher layoffs is also important. LIFO not only hurts students by firing newer teachers regardless of their performance, it also harms students and teachers by requiring that districts lay off a greater numbers of teachers than they would need to let go in a system that was based on performance.
A recent study in Education Next showed that only 16 percent of teachers laid-off under LIFO would also be laid-off in a system that uses performance, rather than seniority, as the deciding factor. Good teachers can be found at every level of experience. When districts make quality-based layoffs, we assume that an equal number of veteran and new teachers will be affected. Because teachers are typically paid based on their years of experience, this means that layoffs based on effectiveness will more likely produce savings closer to an
Rahm Emanuel, in his previous life as the President's Chief of Staff, famously said in 2008, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Rahmbo and his home state of Illinois might want to take that advice as the Land of Lincoln's public pension system unravels at the seams. Rather than place their hopes in a failing system, public workers deserve a fundamental rethink of their retirement options.
Public workers deserve a fundamental rethink of their retirement options.
Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed a major reform, one radical enough to gain the approval of the Wall Street Journal editorial board. This plan simply hammers on workers and retirees, however, without improving portability of benefits or ensuring that young teachers get a fair chance at accruing retirement wealth. Illinois should consider 401k-style defined-contribution plans or cash-balance accounts instead of its legacy pension system for teachers.
Special interests predictably claim reforms cannot and will not save money due to transition costs, a fact noted by the University of Arkansas' Robert Costrell in a policy brief released today by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. The Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois makes just this claim.
Prof. Costrell's brief lays out in helpful detail why this isn't true, but the following graph tells the story succinctly, using California as an example:
It's clear that transitioning away from defined-benefit pensions plans can save money in the long run.
For school administrators and board members lost in the forest of books, reports, and briefs written on “doing more with less,” this outstanding volume provides a compass, map, and sturdy walking stick. Finance guru (and former superintendent of Arlington [MA] Public Schools) Nathan Levenson offers rational, honest, and tangible ways for cash-strapped district leaders to shed budget heft without compromising student learning. Guided by four principles—embrace “crazy” ideas, analyze details to make informed decisions, spend on what works, and align interests—Levenson explains how to manage even the most sacrosanct of education-budget items (all without the need for legislative changes or union approval). For example, district leaders should base funding on academic return on investment (A-ROI) determinations—cutting ineffective programs and beefing up those that see results. Take early investment in reading: In an average-sized elementary school (about 400 students), early reading intervention costs about $2,500 per child (and takes about three years to get struggling students up to grade level). Compare this with special-education referral and placement—which costs an additional $5,000 per year (for mild to moderately disabled students) and likely will last throughout the student’s K-12 career. This need to look beyond singular budget line-items manifests in staffing costs as well. Superintendents must think about fully loaded costs (salary plus benefits) when planning for personnel shifts—and must be willing to think creatively about how to fill certain
"This plan is aggressive." Those are the words used by School District of Philadelphia Chief Academic Officer Penny Nixon this morning in a press conference announcing a massive reform of K-12 education in the City of Brotherly Love. These changes come not a moment too soon: Philly's schools were facing massive deficits and ranked among the worst of America’s large urban school districts.
The SRC deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future.
The School Recovery Committee deserves credit for making smart structural changes to the way Philly will operate in the future. Aggressive plans often entail mindless slashing of schools and headcount so that "business as usual" can continue elsewhere. The SRC instead plans to bolster parental choice, prizing the development of "high-performing seats" wherever they can be found over protecting the legacy school district at all costs. According to the Inquirer's Kristen Graham, the district also plans to restructure employee benefits, saving $156 million of the projected $218 million deficit for next fiscal year. A 7 percent reduction in per-pupil payments to charters is counterproductive, however: If the SRC really want high quality seats, it shouldn't cut charter funding.
District leaders around the country have been tempted into believing that the "new normal" of anemic revenue growth (or no growth at all) would be temporary. This has led to short-sighted cuts and quality-blind layoffs that supes and school boards hope will be
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.