Got Orthonomics in your Email Box?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

So What are Public Schools Doing to Cut Their Budgets?

I've put forward some of my own thoughts on how to cut Jewish Day School and Yeshiva budgets and I've featured guest posters with ideas of the subject, and to say the least, it generated quite a bit of discussion. I am a big believer in taking a look at what others are doing and have been busy searching out and reading some newspaper articles to bring my readers some news from outside the Orthodox world. I'm only scratching the surface, and plan to continue to bring more news, but I'm starting with 6 states/areas, from the state of NY, home to the majority of yeshiva/day school students, as well as home to the #1 most expensive school system in the United States spending, on average, over $16,000 per student (property taxes are out the roof), to Utah, home of the least expensive school system in the United States, spending, on average, less than $6,000 per student.

Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting all of the budget cutting ideas are good ideas (some probably are). In fact, the one I will present in my next post I'm sure will be met with disgust by nearly all my readers. I'm just presenting for the sake of discussion. Let's start with what I've got so far.

What's Happening in NY?
The Governor is asking school districts with less than 1,000 students to consolidate. I can't imagine the journalist got the cost savings right at only $7 per head. New York has some of the highest priced school districts in the nation, some spending over $30,000 per student while NY spend the most per student of any state, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of school districts, each with their own set of administrators, support staff, and auxiliary staff. Consolidation seems like common sense to me. Some of these districts spend so much they would be better off outsourcing the whole darn enterprise. But, consolidation faces opposition from educators. I'm guessing the superintendent that lashed out could find his job no longer exists should schools consolidate.

What's Happening in the DC Metro Area?
Fairfax County, Virginia is threatening larger class sizes of 2 1/2 students on average and claims that each additional student per class will cut the budget by $22 million. Parents don't seem to happy. One can't blame them when classes will be hovering around 30 students. The journalist notes that nationwide the average number of students in elementary classes was 29 in 1961 and dropped to 24 in 1996. I'm not sure we had 30 students in a single elementary school class in my day. But, it was close.

The educators aren't thrilled either. They claim smaller classes means better educated students. However, a professor speaking for the study claims small means *really* small (i.e. 15 students or less) and Fairfax County classes aren't that small as it is. They average 21.2 students. Nearby in Prince William, Virginia, school officials plan to ask state legislature to relax class size standards which stipulate no more than 30 students in a class, with the typical class size of 24.

Fairfax County is likely to eliminate summer school for all but special education students and freeze cost of living increases. I attended public summer school for a number of years and it was always completely free. Other districts charge a small fee for summer school and/or night school, all of which are included in school budgets and "cost per student" averages I believe.

In nearby Montgomery County, the school board has asked the to renegotiate staff contracts to eliminate the 5% salary increase for a savings of $89 million. If contracts cannot be re-negotiated, there will likely be job cuts. Other potential savings could come from eliminating extra academic help at economically disadvantaged schools or increasing class size.

What's Happening in Hawaii?
Looks like the state government in Hawaii is going to have to make some tough choices. Gov. Lingle is asking for a 20% cut in the state budget (later reversed). That is steep. Budget cuts that have been approved include discontinuing funding for 244 positions, science textbooks and other materials, custodians, charter school coordinators, programs for literacy training for learning-disabled children and teacher workshops.

But, more needs to be cut and the ideas being floated by the school superintendent are causing some butting of heads between her and the teachers' union. Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto is suggesting closing school for six days, requiring employees to work without pay for four days, closing campuses of four teacher-planning days, and shortening the school year by four days. Union president didn't like the "donation" of teaching days (who would!) because it represents a pay cut. But, school superintendent points out the advantage: job security. Hawaii schools are also looking at class size increases and fewer new hires.

With one exception, every single commentors on the article has mentioned bloated administration and are asking why only teaching staff and students are being threatened with cuts, but administration will get off without a hit to their own pocketbook? Good question.

What's Happening in Las Vegas?
Parents got a chance to attend town hall meetings to discuss how to cut $120 million out of the budget. Parents overwhelmingly want to keep extracurricular activities such as sports, band, and orchestra. They appear open to the idea of financially underwriting some of the cost of these programs. It will be interesting to see if the budget problems of public schools mean that more parents will have to start paying fees they never had to pay before to keep programs they value, and how that will play out where their are income disparities.

What's Happening in Alabama?
Schools were informed they are only going to be receiving 75% of expected funds to meet the November payroll. Payroll funds are linked to income and sales tax receipts and these are slower coming in. Alabama's schools started the year with little to no cushion. Who knew that Alabama and the Jewish school system shared a commonality.

What's Happening in Utah?
Utah spends the least amount of money per student than any other state in the Union. But, budgets are budgets and Utah is looking to makes cuts too. Teacher raises will likely be off the table. At the state level, the Board of Education will not be filling vacated jobs and will possibly lay off some staff. They also will be halting some programs. The annual U-Pass standardized test might not be given in the coming year. Looks like there is a lot of cooperation in Utah. I wonder if that has to do with what appears to be a general culture of frugality across the board.


anonymousmom said...

I read through all of the entries and find that increasing class size (an option in some Yeshiva day schools only) and reducing raises are the only practical suggestions. Since my raise for the last two years was negligable, there isn't anywhere to go where I work besides down to zero. If that happened, it wouldn't be the first time. They did that years ago in another MO day school I worked for. I believed then that the usual occurred and private deals were made behind closed doors. I was single and humble then so I made no deal. Increasing class size is not as horrible as some say. It really depends on the overall environment in the school, the current class sizes, and the kind of increase you are talking about. I have found that once you go over 21, then a couple more kids doesn't make too much of a difference. Over 24/25 is not acceptable. Boys' classes do better in smaller groups no matter what. If the discipline climate in a school is weak and the administration isn't tight, then larger classes can be particularly challenging. As far as I know, though, my school isn't turning too many people away so I don't know if they can add a couple of kids per class anyway. If they did, I would be ok with that. We currently keep lower class sizes for boys' classes and 23/24 for girls' classes.
Consolidation isn't a bad idea at all. I would welcome diversity in our schools. We are way too segregated in the NY area. However, in current Orthodox culture, that would be a pipe dream.

SephardiLady said...

If the discipline climate in a school is weak and the administration isn't tight, then larger classes can be particularly challenging

I think this point can't made often enough. I've made in regards to employee satisfaction, and I made it in the post where we discussed larger class size. Many of our schools need to quickly shore up behavior. Talking about budget cuts before administration treats behavior infractions with the seriousness they deserve is probably putting the horse before the cart. Raising class size, where possible and if need be, will be far more palatable where behavior is not a major issue.

ProfK said...

Consolidation can work only if certain basic requirements are in place: 1)you have a verrry sparesly populated school that is being consolidated into another school that is also sparesly populated ; 2) you have a school that is being under-utilized physically and has room to absorb more students;3) the schools being consolidated are within reasonable distance of each other;4)all classes in the receiving school are below mandated class size levels.

Unless the four criteria are met then consolidation may solve heating and cleaning two buildings but it will also create an educational mess. Assume the receiving school has an average of 21 students per class across 18 classes. Technically each classroom could be stretched to accomodate 30 students, for a total of 162 new students who could be accomodated. But the sending school has 280 students to send. Or maybe 450. So where will all those new students be put in the receiving school? In the library, the gym, the science lab, the lunchroom and yes, the hallways. Having taught in a school that was oversubscribed I can attest that a lot was going on, but education was at the bottom of the list.

Yeshiva parents who don't have a school locally and who send out of the neighborhood have long complained about the time of the commute for their younger children. Consolidate schools and you increase that commute time for the children leaving the neighborhood. As it is some students find themselves on buses for 30-70 minutes until they get to school; consolidate and you can easily double that time, if not more.

NYC has four new schools on board for Staten Island, although with budget cuts and the time needed to put up those schools we may not see them for another 10-15 years. The only undersubscribed school we have is because it is physically falling apart and needs to be closed altogether, but first you have to have someplace to put the students from this school. Consolidation is not possible, and I imagine that it is not possible for most schools in urban centers.

Please let's keep in mind that consolidation is not just about the physical but is about the educational as well. And it is also about the safety of students, both physical and mental.

rejewvenate said...

Most of my primary and secondary education was at Orthodox day schools in New York, but I did spend 10th grade at a top yeshiva high school in Israel, and the lessons I learned from that experience continue to strongly influence my thinking.

Some of the differences that stand out in my mind (Aside from the fact that it was a boarding school) were:

40:1 student-teacher ratio. Yep, 40 kids per teacher. No athletic teams. That's not to say that sports and fitness weren't important - they most certainly were, but the standards were set by the IDF, who would check in with the students a couple of times a year and set targets for them and their gym instructor. No extracurricular activity. no debate team, no model UN, no astronomy club, nothing. The studies themselves were the focus, and for good reason, because they were very demanding. In the 10th grade, for example, the honors math class was studying calculus, which is usually only available to 12th grade honors in the US, if at all. Every student took two foreign languages, English and Arabic. Evey year, all the science were studied (bio, chem, and physics) but each year a different one was concentrated on. Every student learned basic computer programming.

The school day was quite long, naturally, and included two seders for learning in chavruta and gemara shiur. Tanach was studied during 'secular' hours. School was 5 1/2 days per week, and every other week was an 'in' shabbat, which included more torah learning.

The cost savings relative to our school system were first on class size, second on extracurriculars, and third on that students bought their own textbooks. But most importantly, expectations were very high, teachers were respected and well-paid, there was no tolerance for nonsense. Those are the lessons we need to learn.

Commenter Abbi said...

Wow, rejewvenate, great comment. Everything sounds about right, but I would hardly say teachers here are well paid. Starting salary for teachers can be as low as NIS 4000/month.

Yes, it seems unbelievable, but education can happen with 35 students in a classroom. Teachers here do it all the time. I think it mostly requires thinking of new ways of organizing teaching/learning time. No, you cannot stand in front of a classroom and lecture 35 3rd graders all day. That certainly won't work.

You can organize the class into cooperative learning teams and after a short frontal teaching period either introducing or reviewing the learning material, the teams work on individual projects/ problem solving work (for math)/ blatt gemarah, perakim of mishna or tanach and associated projects that will help the students learn. Teacher/ aide float around and help students along/corrects mistakes.

This method minimizes the disruptive student problems because there is less "show" to steal (teacher is not in a power struggle with class clown/class bully, etc). It also fosters independent learning.

Al said...

Looking to the public sector is a mistake. In the public sector, you announce a cut, and turf defending bureaucrats pick the most politically painful to fight back.

The reason for system consolidation isn't to consolidate schools, it's the top heavy weight. A "typical" ECE-12 Day school will have a Dean, 2 High school principals, 2 elementary principals, and middle school classes are joined with either of the other two, plus a ECE head.

You're talking 6 people with a "senior" position, making good salaries and benefits, for a school with 500 - 1000 kids in it. I'd be shocked if your administration, including their support staff of secretaries, was less than 20% of the budget of most school.

In contract, the public school that I was in in 9th grade (one of the best in the state) had 3000 students, a single Principal, and 2 assistant principals/vice principals. The secular private school I later attended, was Pre-K to 12, had about 1800 students, and had two principals (PreK-6, 7-12) and a VP in the lower school, and two VPs in the upper school.

So triple students, and a third of the administration. We also had full time teachers, not this half time nonsense, or staff members teaching a single class. Now, my private school's administration generally taught a class each, just to remain "involved" on that side, but were generally focuses on administration.

Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate... teachers teach a full day, Torah ALL day, secular ALL day (so you can utilize your staff). Fire whining staff that have bad attitudes, replace them with can-do people... this isn't rocket science, but requires running a school for the benefits of the students and families that pay the bills, instead of for the benefits of quasi-educated "rabbis" with semicha from their accomplished uncles.

Anonymous said...

anonymousmom said...

The stats out of Israel are interesting, but let's not forget that we are talking about completely different cultures. Israeli culture is extremely different than American culture whether you are Chareidi or MO. American parents are usually spoiled and demanding. The reason discipline is such a growing problem in Yeshivas is that there is a complete lack of discipline in the homes and the people running the homes are also running the boards of those schools. Administrators are terrified of those boards so consequences are not consistent. It's easier to keep your job if you don't upset the President of the board by giving his kid a detention. Sorry, but we teachers know the truth. So, increase the class size but back us up. Commenter Abbi, usually I'm with you, but here you and I must part. Cooperative learning is a wonderful tool. It isn't a cure-all nor a brainstorm. It is one of the tools I have in my toolbox. It won't help me in the indulgent American culture in which my students live, for me to be teaching 35 students and grouping them when school discipline is not tight. 35 is never going to be an okay number in education if we want to do it right. There are many Israeli kids from what I hear who are not doing well in that system. Why is that?

Lion of Zion said...


thinking out of the box (or at least copying the out-of-the-box thoughts of others) and being open to change in general is so foreign to many (most?, all?) jewish schools. i'm sorry to say that i think you (and PROFK) waste your time with posts about anything related to jewish education. (of course this has nothing to do with the high quality of the posts.)

Anonymous said...

Re public school consolidation in upstate NY, I'm sure a lot of the small districts are in remote locations and students would have to travel big distances, incurring transportation costs, as ProfK noted would also be a problem for yeshivas. I know I read an article about a district in Texas where kids routinely traveled 2 hours each way! In other remote areas I believe distance learning is going on with remote classrooms. Technology is a great thing. Chabad shluchim have such a system for their kids (I know nothing about it, but the website exists). Just like some corporate work-from-home schedules, which didn't exist a couple of decades ago, I wonder if such a system in is our future.

atuitionsolution said...

Anonymous @ 12:43 AM:

You are right on the money. I belive Mizrachi in Cleveland experimented with virtual schooling but I don't know if the driver of the experiment was cost cutting.

See my earlier guest post:

While my post was more relevant to solving tuition issues than cutting Yeshiva expenditures, the solution can work for Yeshivas as well. If Yeshivas were to buy courses on an as needed basis (think about this!), they should come together to negotiate pooled rates with education technology vendors.

aml said...

My husband when to Horev in Jerusalem in the 1990’s, had 30 or 40 kids in his classes, and was still better prepared for college than most of his American counterparts (although I wouldn’t necessarily describe him as “well-rounded” at that time- he is now). He describes it as organized chaos, but they were doing advanced math and science at this all boys school and he tells stories of his classmates competing to see who will get the highest score on the next exam. They didn’t have sports or other extras, but did have PE. By all accounts, most of his classmates have gone on to do very well: army/yeshiva (hesder), university, marriage/kids, and career. Oh, and my in-laws paid about $2k per year for him to attend.

Of course, herein lies the problem. You see, I have absolutely no problem in finding and paying for extra curricular activities for my kids and if the school wants to cut them out, so be it. But if the school/community is asking me to take a third of my household income and put it towards tuition, they perhaps should be forgiving toward any perceived demands, particularly when it comes to what's taking place in the classroom. And if you think I would be any less demanding if my kids were in public school, you'd be wrong. I’ve completely bought into the line that my kids’ teachers, my husband and I are a team in educating our children. The teacher doesn’t always know best any more than the parents do.

I've said this before here and I will say it again- consolidate, consolidate, consolidate, on services at the very least. Get the schools in town together and get them to share services. Purchase benefits, bid for contracts, and so on, all under one umbrella. Get together with non-Jewish schools if possible- join forces with the local Christian schools to bid out Xerox contracts, for example.

And as for larger class sizes, again, it’s about money- from both perspectives. As a parent, I don’t think I would be too happy to pay $20k per child per year and have them be in a classroom with 30 other kids….

BaruchAttta said...

My first suggestion for American day-schools is to combine the "Rebbi" and the "Teacher" for first thru sixth grades. Why pay two people for a single job? The main reason we have a Rebbi and a Teacher is historical. The European immigrants hired to be Rebbies DID NOT KNOW ENGLISH, so the schools were forced to hire outsiders to teach the English subjects, even to first graders. This does not apply anymore; our Rebbies are all college graduates. However, the archaic custom of retaining two teachers remains.

aml said...

BA: I think this would be acceptable, as long as the rebbes/morot had proper degrees.

anonymousmom said...

"our Rebbies are all college graduates"

"they were doing advanced math and science at this all boys school "

How were their expository writing skills? I honestly want to understand how they were taught good writing skills/research skills in such large groups? Math and science are subjects that lend themselves to group work.

JS said...

Consolidation will never happen until a yeshiva is about to go under (see shulamis and rambam mesivta as examples). The whole point of a yeshiva is to make money, make a name for yourself, etc all under the guise of a different hashkafa or to have a closer yeshiva. I mean seriously, how many hashkafas can there really be to actually necessitate different yeshivas?

It's the same when a new shul opens, it's usually because some guy with money wasn't getting enough kavod and here he gets the main sanctuary named after him whereas at the old shul they'd only give him a wing.

Also, most of these ideas will never work as parents have radically different demands and the administration isn't strong enough to say "this is how it's going to be, take it or leave it" because they're so dependant on fundraising. Any administrator who says this will be out a job or the yeshiva will fail.

Also, no way will you get enough qualified teachers to teach a full-day. Many educators are unqualified as is. And while there are many truly excellent teachers, there are too many who just do it because no one else will hire them. They don't have the requisite degrees, experience, or qualities a teacher should have. Like many other Jewish businesses, the yeshivas have become the bastion of the otherwise unemployable.

anonymousmom said...

"my husband and I are a team in educating our children. The teacher doesn’t always know best any more than the parents do."

I am so glad that parents see themselves as part of a team, much as I would hope you count your accountant as part of the team that helps your family do their best financially. The one thing I always wish parents understood is that sometimes your accountant knows shortcuts and advice that will help you succeed financially and sometimes your child's teacher knows shortcuts and advice that will help your child succeed academically and socially. It's to the benefit of the team to understand that at some point one of the parties may know a heck of a lot more than the others and it's okay if that one party happens to be the teacher. At the end of the day: consolidate, load up the classes, look to the Israeli model, cost-cut, hire full-day teachers, suck it up, whatever you want to advise...just don't underestimate what your children's teachers have to say about all of it.