Staffing Must Increase to Accommodate Bilingual, Special Education Needs, Dist. 205 Administrators Say
School Board hopes to avoid more layoffs next year, begins discussion on how to best address increasing needs.
Students are only halfway through the 2012-13 school year, but Elmhurst Unit District 205 Board members already are looking ahead to next year. Predicting enrollment and staffing needs for 2013-14 is kind of like looking into a crystal ball, but it's a necessary exercise to get the next budgeting cycle started.
"It is very early to try to do these kinds of projections. That is the caveat," Superintendent David Pruneau told the School Board Tuesday.
Best estimates show enrollment remaining flat at York High School and at the district's eight elementary schools, he said.
"As a matter of fact, the majority of elementary schools are seeing slight decreases," Pruneau said, adding that spikes in enrollment might be seen later by grade level.
Bryan Middle School enrollment also is expected to remain flat, he said. But at Churchville and Sandburg middle schools, it's a different story. Thanks to small eighth-grade classes graduating this year and large fifth-grade classes coming in next year, Churchville and Sandburg are looking at increases of about 65 and 57 students, respectively.
"That has a big effect on what kind of staffing we'll have to recommend," Pruneau said.
But enrollment is only one factor in staffing. Assistant superintendents Charles Johns and Meg Schnoor presented their recommendations for staffing based on bilingual education, special education and instructional technology needs. They provided a list of non-discretionary, immediate staffing additions required to maintain class sizes and to meet state mandates. They also provided a discretionary staffing proposal that could be looked at as a goal over time.
Johns said the addition of less than one full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher at the elementary level would restore some of the educational minutes lost in elementary music, world language and art during last year's budget cuts.
"For .85 percent of one teacher you can add those minutes back in all those schools?," board President Jim Collins asked.
"It's really surprising, but it seems to be true," Johns replied.
By adding a staff member, teachers would be able to spend less time traveling between schools, rendering them much more efficient, he said.
Nearly eight FTE teachers and related staff will have to be added to accommodate the growth at the middle school level.
Then, there is special education. Staffing for special-needs students will need to increase across all levels, Schnoor said. Early childhood students are coming into the district with a more "significant level of need" than in the past, she said, and the number of students with autism is increasing at "a dramatic rate."
An additional full-time autism specialist will be required at York, she said, and the need will likely increase based on middle school and elementary student profiles. Students within the Conrad Fischer Elementary School boundaries with special needs have greater needs than their peers in other buildings, Schnoor said. And, they often are bilingual, creating additional challenges.
Overall, additional special education needs for next year are as follows:
- 2 FTE (full-time equivalent) resource teachers at the elementary and middle school levels
- 1 additional special education classroom at Jackson Elementary
- 1 FTE autism specialist at York
- .5 FTE teacher of the deaf at York
- 1 FTE speech language pathologist (bilingual)
- 1.4 FTE social worker for multiple tasks related to students with special needs. "Student with autism have a high need for social skills training and the expertise of a social work," Schnoor said.
- 2 FTE special education assistants
- 3 FTE special education aides
The English Language Learners program also will require two more teachers, one for elementary and one for middle school.
"It's incumbent upon us to have a bilingual staff," Johns said. "Eventually, York will need additional staffing as well, as this growing population comes through the district."
Discretionary Staffing Considerations
"Things are happening that are having a real impact on our effectiveness—things we need to address that will enable us to reach our key performance indicators," Johns said.
Two FTE school psychologists are needed to support "response to intervention" programs at all levels. Currently, students are sent out of district for these services, where "we have very little control and oversight," and tuition is very expensive, Schnoor said.
The psychologists need to be Spanish-speaking to remedy a phenomenon occurring that is "completely inappropriate," she said.
"Students with limited English are being referred for special education evaluation," she said. "Not speaking English is not a disability. However, there are not a lot of avenues ... to get them help other than by referring them for special education evaluation. One way to remedy this is to have better identification of students with disabilities and better processes in ELL, which is what Charles has been working on with his team.
"We would be seeking out Spanish-speaking psychologists because that's one of the areas we absolutely need to address."
Technology is another.
"We've come a long way, but we're still not up to where we feel our students are getting a comparable technology experience to students in neighboring districts," Johns said.
Only one person is responsible for all instructional technology for every school in the district, he said.
"We're putting an awful lot of really critical service needs on the back of one person," Johns said.
"We're also trying to get one-on-one computing at York. More and more districts in our area have one-on-one all the way down to middle school."
He also mentioned e-textbooks coming down the pipeline and a need for more teacher training on new technologies like Smartboards. Four FTE staff members would help achieve the technology goals, he said.
"Only three districts out of 25 in DuPage County don't have building-based instructional tech support at every building, and those are districts smaller than ours," Johns said. "We need support in the longer run if we're going to keep pace and offer a full set of services for our students."
Four "teachers on special assignment" also are needed to assist principals at the elementary schools, who are facing new burdens due to state mandates, including elaborate teacher evaluation processes.
"We're asking principals to do much more data analysis to hone quality of curriculum, improve quality of our (response to intervention) program—and that leads into special education. They have more and more meetings, there is more and more data principals need to consider in order to make the right decisions," Johns said. "Sadly, principals are already so burdened with evaluations—the number of meetings in a given month is incredible. And this doesn't even get us into district and state-level testing (for which they are responsible).
"We need to find a way to help them."
Adding It Up
All told, an additional 16.5 FTE staff members are necessary in the non-discretionary category and 10 FTE are mentioned in the discretionary areas.
"That's not just a wish list. Those are things we really need," board member Susan DeRonne said of the discretionary list. "How will you even do it with four extra teachers on special assignment? All (buildings) should have assistant principals to help with that. But how do we possibly add between $1 million and $1.5 million to the budget? What is going to have to go?"
Pruneau acknowledged it is all very costly and not realistic given today's economics.
"It's probably not going to happen in the short term, certainly," he said. But having the conversation is worthwhile in the event that funding does become available, he said.
Board member Maria Hirsch said she would be "shocked" if there was discretionary money in the budget.
"Every discussion at this table is about our revenue declining, expenses increasing," she said, adding the district also is not out of the woods on the issue of pension reform.
Pruneau said agreeing to the non-discretionary staffing numbers will provide a "status quo" budget: not enhancing, but offering the same programs and services as this year.
"I'm not asking you to act on the discretionary (items) this evening," he said. "Decide if you're comfortable with the non-discretionary. If you're comfortable with that, (Assistant Superintendent of Finance Chris Whelton) can build budget projections."
Board members agreed they want to avoid having to cut any staff next year.
"I would like to avoid layoffs and (reductions in force) if at all possible," Pruneau said.
Staffing levels must be determined by March.
"Next meeting we will see projections for the status quo budget and see where we are," Pruneau said.