Scaling Back – trim the fat first!

In four days, I received five emails from colleagues asking me how I would realign a school or district based on low enrollment.  Kudos to them for starting to prepare for the 16-17 school year! I’m just looking to get my buildings open.

So, if anyone else asks me, here’s my two cents on trimming back when low enrollment hits a building (it should be noted that this is NOT a reflection on my current or any former districts… we have some muckrakers out there that try to interpret my words to be something they are not):

1.Perform a needs assessment. Remember those KWL charts we all used?  Make one with three categories:

What I Have

What I Need

What I Want 

2. Make a scattergram of what personnel and programs you currently offer and mirror it to what is required from the state. It’s a crummy thing to do, but it has to be done when you go into survival mode.

3. Make the electives part-time. While I am all about athletics and the arts, some things have to be reduced to meet your needs in tough times.  If you haven’t explored sharing electives, start.  Sometimes, the teacher or the program is so bad that other districts won’t bite, but hopefully that won’t be the case.  Or even worse, a district signs on and then reneges the offer, leaving you with a full-time, crummy program.  Talk about a disservice to students! Additionally, it’s hard to justify to the public a full-time teacher only teaching one class per grade level when other teachers are teaching 40+ a week. You can TRY to get creative, but we all know it comes down to cash.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it.  As painful as it is,  seek sharing services… or cut them to what you need.

4. Cut the emergency cert hires. Chances are those emergency hires are more of a pain than anything else. And you also know that most emergency certs are of last resort, for whatever reason (lack of cert, last minute placement, you couldn’t get anyone else, etc.) Nix and replace from the in-house pool.

5. Explore privatization options and shared services. From your aides to your administrative assistants, you can always explore other services or shared services at a lower rate. Sure, quality comes into play, and for the most part, I agree with ‘you get what you pay for’. Be careful with this route.

6. Don’t re-budget for retirees and “the inefficient” (AKA the useless).  People don’t like me saying “useless”, but look, they exist in every building… from Superintendents to Supervisors, custodians to cafeteria workers… we’ve all worked with someone where you sit and scratch your head wondering “how did this person get a job?”  Was it Daddy on the BOE and nobody else would hire you?  Or did she / he marry a BOE member and divorce them once they got tenure? Whatever the inefficiency is, hopefully your Principal / Administrator placed those not efficient in positions that are created for minimal student / public interaction.  If they have to interact with students, hopefully they are in a position where they don’t have to grade. If you hear that they are retiring, you don’t replace.  If they are sticking around, the phrase ‘less is more’ applies – the less interaction with students, the more achievement your students will have.

7. Don’t RIF, eliminate those that aren’t cutting it.  I think the RIF is the most wimpiest way to let someone go.  If that what it absolutely comes down to, then you have to.  If you have others that are not doing the job to every expectation you hold them to, let them go!  If there is no longer a need that the service they were hired for, you let them go.  The hardest thing that people have a hard time digesting is that  schools are not employment agencies. There is nothing more that I hate then having excess people around just to have it.  Don’t make it a last in, first out routine.  Make it a ‘ you’re not cutting it, it’s time to move on.’ Do what you need to do to save good people!

8. Get creative with your schedule. You can easily add classes for electives, giving teachers more prep times. You can add K-8 / K-5 teachers with electives to offer more variety. Maximize each person; stretch it out!  Chances are it ends up offering more to students. The worst thing that you can do – change the schedule once it’s finalized / optimized for students.  Going backward only impairs  students growth. Don’t succumb to peer pressure.  Stand your ground.  Remember – FOR THE KIDS!

9. Be straight with the staff  and the public. Don’t spring this on anyone.  This is not an easy topic to deal with — you’re dealing with lives here.  People need to have a heads up as soon as possible so they can prepare their respective next step. People will react, people willbe sad, people will revolt against you, but

So, if you’re already in that spot that’s looking for the next year, kudos for planning ahead, but it’s not fun planning.  But, chances are that if you’ve read this far,  you’re the administrators who are charged with making these decisions. You all know that we can’t make everyone happy, but we will continue to do what’s best for schools.

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