Workable Formulas

Cuts make it unlikely that education institutions will be able to adhere to recommended staffing levels.

Some economic observers see signs that the country has begun to recover from the recession, but for education institutions, 2010-11 is expected to be a year of more belt-tightening.

Schools and universities may establish guidelines to determine staffing levels, but the bleak financial outlook for the coming year may force administrators to toss those formulas aside. A sentence in the Polk County (Fla.) district's 2009-10 staffing plan spells out what is a reality for most educational systems in most years, and is painfully true for 2010-11: “Adherence to the provisions within this staffing plan,” the document states, “is contingent upon availability of funds.”

That's a contingency most schools and universities aren't counting on.

A survey conducted in March by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) indicates that cutbacks in the coming year will be more severe than the previous year. Of the 435 K-12 administrators from 45 states that took part in the survey, 90 percent expected that they would have to cut positions for 2010-11, compared with 68 percent who had to cut positions in 2009-10.

“The cessation of (stimulus) dollars, paired with the continued budget strains at the state and local levels and the proposed … federal budget, represents a one-two punch to education funding that will further insulate schools from economic recovery,” says the AASA report, "A Cliff Hanger: How America's Public Schools Continue to Feel the Impact of the Economic Downturn."

In Florida, voters amended the state constitution to establish class-size mandates. As the law stands, in 2010-11, high school classes would be limited to 25 students; fourth through eighth grades to 22 students; and pre-kindergarten through third grade to 18 students.

Many schools won't be able to afford the additional costs of smaller classes, so voters will be asked in November to amend the regulations so that the mandates apply to school-wide averages, not every classroom.

For maintenance and custodial employees, staffing levels often are based on the amount of space workers must clean and maintain. In Polk County, the formula used for maintenance workers in 2009-10 was 67,812 square feet per employee. Guidelines for maintenance support positions (e.g., shop clerks, service managers, dispatchers) are one support position for each 6.9 maintenance technicians.

For custodians, Polk County uses a base formula of 1.8 man-hours for every 1,000 square feet of cleanable space. Other duties call for more staffing. For instance, a school with a breakfast program will have five more hours of custodial time, and a portable classroom and restroom will add two hours a week. Grounds-maintenance chores also add time: schools add 45 minutes for every 1,000 square feet of raking and cleaning up, and from 30 to 90 minutes a week for mowing grass.

The AASA survey indicates that most districts will not be able to reach their desired staffing levels for non-teaching personnel in 2010-11. Forty-six percent of the respondents say they will be reducing custodial services in 2010-11; in 2009-10, 25 percent of the districts cut back on custodial work, and in 2008-09, 11 percent.

That translates to ever larger backlogs in school maintenance. Fifty-five percent of respondents said the amount of deferred maintenance would rise in 2010-11, compared with 36 percent in 2009-10 and 18 percent in 2008-09.

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