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School Finance

A growing number of districts across the country are starting to take a more systemic look at their use of time; the arbitrary constraint of the traditional 6-hour school day is being revisited to explore whether a longer school day could benefit some or all students. One of the greatest hurdles school districts face as they think about lengthening the day is whether and how to compensate teachers and other staff for the additional time.

Over the last several years, Cross & Joftus has worked with a number of districts that are experimenting with a longer day for some or all of their schools. As this work progresses, we are starting to see some patterns emerge in the approaches to compensation that may be useful for other districts.

While there are a handful of districts that have substantially lengthened the day for all students, more often districts begin this process by lengthening the school day for a targeted school or a subset of schools or grades. For the majority of districts that have a longer day, in some but not all schools, compensation for the added time generally was negotiated apart from regular contract negotiations. As longer-day options take root and expand, districts are grappling with larger compensation issues—what would it mean if the entire district or a much larger number of schools within the district adopted a longer day? Would the current compensation approach make sense? Would it be sustainable long term? How would it be integrated with or layered on all the initiatives already happening in the district, including pay for performance, differentiated pay for hard-to-staff subjects or schools and the like? Does the district need to negotiate a specific pay increase for the extra time or could this change in schedule be viewed as part of a broader set of changes to the teacher role that has been evolving over time?

We’ve started to see several different pay models emerge, each with its own pros and cons:

Contracted hourly rate for extra time — This could take the form of either an “extra pay for extra duty” hourly rate outlined in the teachers’ contract or a computed hourly rate based on each teacher’s annual salary. When Denver Public Schools was implementing its small Expanded Learning Time Pilot in July 2012, the teachers’ contract was amended to explicitly state that teachers in ELT schools who worked over and above the contracted 40-hour workweek would be paid a specified rate ($28 per hour at that time). This allowed for flexibility from school to school in exactly how the extra time was implemented.

Additional flat amount added to base pay —In Boston, the most recent round of contract negotiations included a new program to add 40 minutes of extra time at the city’s 60 lowest-performing elementary and middle schools. The contract specifies a flat amount of $4,464 to be added to all teacher salaries (an approximate 5% increase in pay for the average teacher) at schools implementing this reform. Because it is an increase in base pay, this increase counts towards teachers’ pensions, which is a significant benefit to teachers. In addition to the increase in pay, the contract also included significant additional planning time for teachers and funding and support to ensure that the additional planning and collaboration time is well used. It is notable that all teachers receive the same amount, which means a larger percentage increase for the less experienced teachers who tend to be lower on the pay scale. It is also worth noting that, over the years, Boston has implemented a number of reforms that include a longer day, and the district currently has a number of extant pay models for schools that operate on a longer schedule. Each pay model was negotiated separately with the union and has a separate carve-out within the contract. This has created a complicated contract and has engendered some discontent among those in the district who feel they didn’t get as good a deal as those that came before or after.

A percentage increase in teacher pay — Elizabeth (New Jersey) Public Schools began implementing a longer school day starting in 2006. By 2011 they had lengthened the school day by 90 minutes in every school in the district, creating an eight-hour school day district wide. The district based the pay increase provided to teachers on a pay differential that had been negotiated back in 1998 when a new magnet included a longer school day as part of its school model. In that original school and then in all subsequent schools, the district paid all teachers an additional 8.24% for the additional 90 minutes. In 2014, when the district was faced with budget difficulties, it cut back the extra time to 45 minutes and cut teachers’ “extra” pay back to 4.2%. Elizabeth started the longer day in a single school and negotiated the pay increase years before the district ever conceived of the longer day as a district-wide strategy. The teacher contract is up for renewal in Elizabeth, and the district is likely to address this issue in the next round of contract negotiations.

While there are other ELT compensation structures emerging, many are simply variations on these themes. In addition, it is worth noting that some districts (Chicago is the most notable) have tried to lengthen the school day district wide with little to no extra pay for teachers beyond the typical yearly increases.

Each of these pay models has its benefits and its costs, and districts should consider these within the context of their needs (e.g. extended day schedules) and constraints (e.g. teacher contracts). One lesson for all districts looking to establish an extended day program is that pay structures, once established within a district on any scale, often become district-wide compensation models that are both politically and logistically challenging to alter. Districts expanding learning time at any level would be wise to develop extra-time compensation structures with an eye towards how those pay structures would scale, whether they would be sustainable over time, and how they can build in flexibility to modify compensation strategies as extended day programs evolve.

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Author(s): Heather Clapp Padgette

While our national economy is showing many signs of recovery including higher job growth and lower unemployment, many state education budgets are still feeling the effects of the recent recession. A recent report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities provided the following sobering statistics.

  • At least 35 states provided less funding per student for the 2013-14 school year than they did before the recession hit. Fourteen of these states cut per-student funding by more than 10 percent. (These figures are in inflation-adjusted dollars and focus on the primary form of state aid to local schools.)
  • At least 15 states are providing less funding per student to local school districts in this school year than they provided a year ago. This is despite the fact that most states are experiencing modest increases in tax revenues.
  • Where funding has increased, it has generally not increased enough to make up for cuts in past years. For example, New Mexico is increasing school funding by $72 per pupil this year. But that is too small to offset the state’s $946 per-pupil cut over the previous five years.

And even with reduced state investments, districts are being asked to do more—add more pre-K rooms; increase the use of technology; provide more options for high school students; support more STEM activities; ready teachers and students for new state standards and assessments; and upgrade their physical plan to support learning in the information age.

There is, perhaps, a hint of a silver lining in this very gloomy economic scenario. That is, in the face of declining revenues, district leaders are becoming more thoughtful and strategic in how they are choosing to deploy their resources (people, time, and money). Through our work with districts across the country, we are seeing:

  • A focus on trimming budgets where cuts can do the least harm rather than across the board cuts that were so common just a few years ago. For instance, some districts have been able to maintain investments in key reform strategies like a longer day or one-on-one technology while cutting other programs or activities.
  • The use of data to understand what approaches are working and attempts to preserve investments in those areas. The idea of calculating and measuring “return on investments” in education has gotten a large boost during this era of do-more-with-less.
  • More partnerships between districts and other city agencies and community organizations to bring additional resources into schools such as additional adult volunteers to support project-based learning or increase access to technology.

While some may argue that education budgets have become bloated over time, the reality is that districts can only do more with less for so long. Eventually, budget cuts will (and some argue already do) limit the ability of districts to provide students with the quality of education that we have come to expect and that is needed for continued national prosperity. If we believe that education is the driver of our economy and that investments to improve teaching and learning, in technology, and in the physical infrastructure of schools are necessary for the development of a competitive workforce, than the continued reduction in state education budgets should be a shared cause for concern.

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Author(s): Sharon Deich

In the past two decades we have witnessed a steady growth of school-community partnerships. These partnerships have sought to address a wide range of school, student, and family needs including mentoring, before and after school care, academic tutoring, family financial literacy, and mental health support.  In the wake of these partnerships is a growing drumbeat for more districts to adopt this strategy.  The recent report ”Partnerships, Not Pushouts: A Guide for School Board Members on Community Partnerships for Student Success,” developed by a group of national k12 education and advocacy groups is a notable addition to the push for more and better school-community partnerships.

School-community partnerships may be inspired by a new school reform approach; a desire to better prepare students for the demands of the 21st century; a push to address equity issues; or the need to fill holes in school budgets.  The idea of bringing community resources into schools or sending students out into the community as part of their formal education is simple and compelling: when schools and communities work together, they bring more resources and expertise to support students. The reality of creating a partnership that works for both schools and community partners is much more complicated.   The complex nature of school-community partnerships goes a long way towards explaining why they are still not the norm and why partnership often happens in a one-off or ad hoc manner.

Through our work with school districts and community partners we have come to see that when districts adopt a strategic and transparent approach to partnerships it can fuel their growth. We offer a few lessons from our work that may help more districts collaborate with community organizations and connect families to community resources.

Enduring school-community partnerships have a clear, formal agreement that identifies the roles and responsibilities of each partner. Formal agreements clarify the ground rules for the partnership by specifying who is going to do what, when, and how. For school districts, a key step in developing agreements with community partners often involves creating a set of criteria to determine the fit of various partners to support the work of the district. For instance, in partnerships with afterschool providers, a district may establish criteria around staffing or quality. Additionally, partnership agreements often spell out a set of shared outcomes and how each partner (including schools themselves) will be held accountable for their contribution to the outcomes.  Another important feature of these formal agreements is that they support partnerships through inevitable staff or leadership transitions; with formal arrangements the partnerships become more about the work and less about the particular individuals in the organizations.

Dedicated staff at the district and/or school level is like the grease of the partnership engine—supporting the smooth operation of the partnership. At the district level, this may involve one or more staff that are initiating and managing the formal agreements between schools and partners.  Some districts (including Oakland, Chicago, Clark County, Nevada, and Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas) have taken this one step further and created entire units or offices to support their community partnership work. Establishing an office to support school-community partnerships can alleviate some of the time burden on individual principals and other school staff of establishing and maintaining partnerships. The office can also serve as a troubleshooting resource for school-based staff (and for community partners) facing partnership challenges on the ground. There are added benefits as well.  First, it is a clear statement of the value of partnerships to district staff, partners, and the community which can serve to re-enforce good partnering and attract additional partners and resources. Second, it makes partnership an explicit part of the district’s on-going educational approach, helping all parties to see how such work supports district goals and priorities. And finally, having an anchor in the district creates opportunities to share data to better understand how partnerships are contributing to student success as well as to identify areas for improvement.

There is no one way to implement school-community partnerships.  Like many things in the world of education reform, there is no right way to approach school-community partnerships. Rather, how districts choose to structure partnerships depends upon district and municipal leadership, the type and mix of partners, the availability of public and private resources, as well as other on-going district reform efforts. For instance, a growing number of districts are creating community schools as a way to foster and organize school-community partnerships.  Other districts rely on a particular program model such as Beacons or Communities in Schools to support partnerships.  And others rely on a third party—often an intermediary– such as the Providence Afterschool Alliance, a local United Way, or Say Yes to Education to help support partners. Say Yes successfully helped Syracuse (NY) City School District build a coalition of partners in business, education, local and state government, and community organizations to reform how the school system supports students and their families.  (Learn more about the Say Yes/Syracuse story here.) Regardless of the approach, district involvement can help to ensure success and sustainability.

In the coming months, we will continue to explore this issue as well as others related to the strategic use of resources.  Stay tuned!

(Photo: Communities In Schools site coordinator and her students at Samuel Clemens High School in Texas. Photo by Laura McKenzie, courtesy of Communities In Schools.)

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Author(s): Heather Clapp Padgette and Sharon Deich

Historically, decisions about spending and staffing for individual schools were made at the district level, with principals playing a relatively minor role in school level resource and budget decisions.  More recently, however, the practice of granting principals autonomy to make decisions about how to use their resources—people, time, and money—has become a popular strategy for improving educational outcomes.  This strategy has been adopted by districts such as Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Oakland, and Omaha. While many believe that principals are in the best position to make decisions about how to utilize resources at their buildings, questions remain as to how much control a district should retain and how much should be granted to principals and under what circumstances.

What we are learning from our work with districts as well as from our study of this issue is that there is no secret formula for successfully balancing responsibilities across district staff and building leaders.  Instead, like many education reforms, the right balance depends upon a complicated set of factors that include the local political and social context; the appetite of the superintendent and of principals for this type of reform; as well as structures and practices in the district offices.  That being the case, we offer several lessons from our work that can help districts as they seek to find their balance of autonomy and control.

Districts need to grant enough autonomy to principals to “make the juice worth the squeeze.”  In order for principals to be good stewards of their resources, they need to invest precious time in developing budgets; comparing alternative scenarios for utilizing resources; gaining the support for any new approaches from their staff (and potentially from district leadership); and providing enough information to the district to ensure accountability.  In one district where principals were granted autonomy for less than 10 percent of their budget, they made it clear that the administrative burdens associated with the budget flexibility outweighed the benefits of the autonomy since the pot of money over which they had control was not large enough to make meaningful changes at their schools.  So how much is enough when it comes to local control of resources?  To answer this question, we have reviewed a variety of district budgets and found that most districts looking to promote autonomy grant anywhere from 40% to 80% of their budget to principals. For example, Prince George’s County recently went from a system where principals controlled 2% of their budget to a system where they now control over 50%.  A similar percentage of budgets are controlled by principals in Oakland, where local control has been in practice for many years.

Districts are finding many ways to share responsibility for management of resources with principals.  Some districts grant autonomy to building leaders who have demonstrated their capacity to manage well or have been in their position for a minimum number of years. Others start out by granting principals authority over a limited set of resources and over time expand the portfolio of funding that principals control. And a third group of districts grant budget autonomy to a limited number of schools within the district.  Each of these approaches allows the district to test out this practice; learn from the experience; and find a balance that makes sense for their needs and circumstances.

Devolving budget authority does not necessitate the move to a weighted student formula. For many districts, the decision to provide principals more authority over budgets creates an opportunity to rethink how resources are divvied up across schools and student groups. Weighted student formulas are designed to drive resources to schools based on the number of students and the needs or characteristics of those students. While they are often linked to a strategy for devolving autonomy for decision making to principals, they are by no means a requirement. In fact, there are many ways for districts to grant principals decision making authority over resources without implementing a weighted student formula. For instance, Denver has several innovation schools where principals have control over budget decisions and in New Orleans, each Charter Management Organization sets its own parameters for principal autonomy. Our friends and colleagues at Education Resource Strategies, recently released a paper that presents a framework for helping districts weigh the considerations for moving to a weighted student formula.  The Reason Foundation also has a good resource on this topic. The bottom line is that even without a weighted student formula, districts have multiple options for granting budget authority to principals.

In the coming months, we will continue to explore this issue and others related to the strategic use of resources.  Stay tuned!

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Author(s): Sharon Deich

There is a growing recognition that the traditional school day and school calendar are out of synch with the needs of students and the demands of the workplace. To address these challenges, more and more schools – originally charters, but increasingly traditional district schools – are expanding learning opportunities by adding hours to the school day or lengthening the school year.   Earlier this month in his state of the state address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced plans for a longer school day and an extended school year. In 2012, the city of Chicago – which had one of the shortest school days in the country – lengthened its school day despite significant opposition.  Florida is requiring its lowest-performing schools to offer a longer school day with the hopes of boosting literacy achievement. This work is also buoyed by support from several national foundations including The Wallace Foundation, The Ford Foundation, and the C.S. Mott Foundation that are helping to untangle questions of policy and practice regarding Expanded Learning Time (ELT).

While the notion of expanding learning time appeals to many, fundamental questions abound about how much the extra time will cost and and how to pay for it.  In a new paper, developed by Cross & Joftus with the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), we identify challenges and strategies related to financing ELT by examining several traditional district schools (not including charters) that lengthened their school day or school year.

The study confirmed that similar to the regular school day, staff costs are the biggest cost driver for ELT.  Most of the schools in the study employed their school day teachers for some or part of the longer day (one school contracted with a community partner to support the longer day) and finding funding to cover the additional staff costs was a universal challenge.

The study also raised an important question that schools are grappling with—what is the appropriate compensation for teachers for the extra hours?  For the schools in the study, we found that while all teachers were compensated for their extra time, the amount they were paid varied greatly and was not proportional to the extra time they were working (ten percent additional time did not translate to ten percent in additional pay).  In fact, the study found that for every ten percent increase in time, schools were paying teachers about six percent more.  District approaches to compensation included a flat stipend for all teachers in one school and varying percentage increases to salaries in several other places.  While we know that teacher compensation will remain a local issue, compensation data from more schools and districts is needed to identify promising practices.

Another insight from the study was that in some places moving to a longer day or longer year created staff turnover —at least in the first few years of the new schedule.  Teacher turnover presents real costs to schools and districts in terms of hiring, inducting, and training new faculty.   Principals also indicated a worry about teacher burnout associated with expanding learning time.  Several reported that when faced with a longer school day or school year some teachers were voting with their feet and moving to schools that had a shorter work day.  NCTL reports some emerging strategies to address issues of burnout including staggering teacher schedules, using technology, and more teacher collaboration time.

Finding strategies to address both of these issues– appropriate compensation and burnout for teachers who are working longer hours– will be key to sustaining ELT efforts.

As more and more districts add time to their school schedules, they have ELT’s early adopters to thank for shedding light on financing challenges and strategies and for sharing their evolving knowledge to support ELT implementation.  As we continue our work with schools and districts across the country we will use this space to share updates and emerging strategies for financing ELT.

 

Learn more about our work in the area of Expanded Learning.

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Author(s): Heather Clapp Padgette and Sharon Deich