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Middle School Scheduling/Staffing Update

Middle School Scheduling/Staffing Update

Programming/ Middle School Structural Questions:

What is the current middle school schedule and what are the average class sizes?
The current scheduling model at the middle school has a team approach. Each grade level has two teams of four core teachers (in math, social studies, English-language arts, and science). Currently, the average ELA/social studies/science class size is 21 at the middle school level, while math classes average 18 students each. Enrollment projections suggest the District should plan for a decline of 10% over the next five years.

Will ‘teams’ go away with this change?
No, but the structure of the teams could change to adapt to enrollment-based staffing. Members of the middle school schedule committee have made retaining the teams their top priority. To that end, all schedules currently being reviewed include teams. One schedule under consideration keeps four core teachers on two teams for each grade level.

When will the community know what the middle school schedule will look like for 2020-21?
The committee will present its recommendations at the January 13, 2020 Board of Education meeting.

Who is a part of the middle school scheduling committee, and what is the work they are tasked to complete?
The middle school scheduling committee comprises 14 teachers (seven from CMS and seven from SMS) and four administrators. The members are listed below. This committee has been tasked with thinking creatively about what a schedule that adapts to enrollment can look like. There are many models that exist that allow schools to staff based on enrollment; however, the clear priority in District 109 has been to maintain the team structure. The District is confident that we can honor the top priority of our teachers and staff (maintaining the two-team model) based on enrollment. 

Committee Members:

Administrators

Shepard Middle School Teachers

Caruso Middle School Teachers

Danielle Arnold

Director for Learning and Innovation

Becca Frase

7th Grade Math 

Julie Witczak

CMA 

John Filippi

Business Manager

Dave Komie

8th Grade Social Studies 

Ben Lombardi

6th Grade Math 

Megan Russell,

CMS Principal

Sherrie Ramsden

Special Education

Bea Revelins

8th Grade Science 

Chris Cybulski

SMS Principal

Sara Ball

6th Grade ELA

Lior Tomer

7th Grade Social Studies 

 

Emily Dykema

Band 

Tracy Markin

Special Education 

 

Ann Blythe

7th Grade Science 

Mandy D’Ambrosio

Interventionist 

 

Jamie Mall

7th Grade Math 

Jen Feldberg 

World Language 

Has the District already decided the outcome or is the committee empowered to make a recommendation on the middle school schedule?
The Board voted at its September meeting to staff based on enrollment. As can be seen under the “Board Decision-Making/Timeline Questions” section below, this decision was made after extensive review, thought, and consideration. However, the only decision that has been made is that staffing in the district should adjust to enrollment. 

Enrollment Questions:

What is the projected enrollment driving this change?
Declining enrollment is gradual and districts throughout the area and state are experiencing the same trend. In 2010, the district had 3,156 students; as of today, just short of 10 years later, the district has 2,900 students. 

Based on the current projections, by the time current kindergarteners are in sixth grade, the middle schools will have 20% fewer students than in the 2012-13 school year. That amounts to approximately 100 fewer students at each of the middle schools by the 2025-26 school year. This information is based on the actual number of students currently enrolled at various grade levels throughout the district. 

Could new students moving into the District mitigate the projected decline in enrollment?
The District has seen relatively low mobility, including 229 move-ins and 195 move-outs over the past four years. It is not expected that move-ins would mitigate the projected decline in enrollment. 

Does the District expect numbers to continue to decrease indefinitely? 
Enrollment changes over long periods of time. All the data available today suggest the District should expect and prepare for declining enrollment until at least the 2025-26 school year. It is possible that the District is in a downturn now, but in the future will begin growing again. If an increase in enrollment occurs, we anticipate the upturn would start in kindergarten and the early primary grades. 

How accurate have the District's past enrollment estimates been?
Most communities simply can look at live birth data and expect that in five years, they will see between 95% and 105% of that number of children enter kindergarten. Unfortunately, such an enrollment projection model does not accurately predict enrollment in District 109. Many people move to Deerfield after the birth of their children and before their children start in school. This reality makes enrollment difficult to predict. 

The District, working with a professional demographer, employs a model that begins with live birth data and assumes more students migrating to District 109. Such a model has been accurate in predicting enrollment in the past.

Financial Questions:

If the District has employed and could afford the current number of teachers in previous years, why does staffing need to be reduced to adjust to enrollment? Couldn’t the District simply support the smaller class sizes? 
In the short term, and only at the middle school level, the answer is yes. However, it is important to note that the District has historically adjusted staffing levels to enrollment—even at the middle school level. When the middle schools transitioned to the team model in the 2013-14 school year, eight core teachers per grade level was the appropriate number to keep class sizes at approximately 22-24 students. Prior to the team model, the middle schools added or reduced staff based on enrollment.

Prior to directing the administration to explore scheduling models that would permit the District to staff the middle schools based on enrollment, the Board explored the probable cost of keeping smaller class sizes at the middle school and reducing class sizes across all grades. Such an action would require the District to go to referendum to generate additional revenue to pay for those adjustments.

How does the District construct financial projections?
The Department of Finance and Operations and Finance Committee of the Board update five-year financial projections on an annual basis. Projections are available in the Financial Information & Transparency Directory on the District 109 website. 

At a basic level, financial projections examine cash on hand (the district’s reserves), anticipated expenditures, and expected revenues. The projection model studies the impact of anticipated revenues and expenditures on expected cash on hand year-over-year. Detailed information about assumptions contained in the financial projections is available in the projections on the website.

What rules govern the money the district collects?
District 109 is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Act (PTELL), which restricts the amount of property tax the District can levy on residential and commercial property owners. Property taxes are over 90% of the district’s revenue, while property tax revenue is limited by PTELL to the lesser of the Consumers’ Price Index (CPI) or 5%. In short, the district can reasonably expect to receive an increase in revenue roughly equal to CPI year-over-year, unless the District were to run a referendum. In the 2019 levy year, CPI was at 1.9%. 

Is the Board making the decision to adjust to enrollment-based staffing at the middle school to pay for capital projects like cafeterias, libraries, and the possible renovation of the Caruso auditorium?
No. The District uses a fund accounting structure mandated by the state. Expenditures for capital improvements come from a different pool of monies than do expenditures for salaries and benefits. The District has planned for and saved for such expenditures over time.

With an enrollment decline, why is the middle school schedule the only discussion? Has the District looked at all areas of spending and adjusted to this new reality?
The middle school is not the only focus of discussion taking place. Elementary staffing levels have already been adjusting to enrollment, and our middle schools used to adjust staffing to enrollment prior to the adoption of the team schedule in the 2013-14 school year. Spending on non-classroom positions like administrators, administrative assistants, instructional coaches, and other non-classroom positions is examined on an annual basis. 

As enrollment has declined, staffing has been reduced in many areas. The District expects further reductions in these areas as enrollment declines in future years. 

The District anticipates a large number of retirees in the next four years. Why can’t the savings realized by hiring new, less experienced teachers be used to fund smaller class size?
The Department of Finance and Operations plans for retirements when completing financial projections. Assumptions indicate that retiring staff members will be replaced by less experienced and less costly staff. The assumptions guide not only financial projections, but also Board of Education decision-making with regard to contract negotiations with the District’s support staff and teacher’s associations. To be regionally competitive and to reward staff members’ work, staff receive increases in wages that far exceed CPI year-over-year. This is possible only because the District is judicious in planning for retiring staff and adjusting staffing to the enrollment needs of our students.

Is the Board planning to lay off teachers to adjust to enrollment-based staffing?
If the process to adjust staffing at the middle school based on enrollment begins now, normal attrition (retirements or staff leaving for other reasons) can likely account for the reduction in staffing. Some staff may need to be reassigned to different roles within the organization, but the District anticipates no need for a reduction in force. If the District does not adjust to enrollment based staffing now, and pushes the decision off until next year or the year thereafter, a reduction in force would become more likely in the future.

Board Decision-Making/Timeline Questions:

What work did the Board do to arrive at this decision? 

  • November 23, 2014: Dr. Michael Lubelfeld led a discussion with the Board about class size guidelines at District 109 schools. This discussion focused on the elementary schools, as the middle schools are staffed using a team structure, with four core teachers per team at each grade level. Over the past five years, the administration has used these guidelines to make staffing decisions at the elementary school level. 
  • September 17, 2018: Evidence-Based Funding presented to the board. The Evidence-Based Funding framework demonstrates where the District is light or heavy on positions based on a 100% adequacy target established by the state. The District is currently funded at 143% adequacy. 
  • October 1, 2018: DMG Schedule Feedback presented to the board. DMGroup presented an evaluation of the middle school and elementary school schedules to the Board of Education. 
  • May 20, 2019: The Board of Education reached a consensus for the administration to re-evaluate the class size guidelines and incorporate research, best practice, financial, and local considerations to determine if a change to the guidelines was warranted. The Board also examined enrollment and staffing practices for the middle schools. 
  • August 15, 2019: The class size study was presented to the Finance Committee of the Board of Education. Upon reviewing the class size study, current District enrollment, local factors, and the financial considerations for lowering class sizes, the Finance Committee recommended the Board vote to maintain the current class size guidelines for elementary schools the District has operated under since the 2015-16 school year. In addition, the Finance Committee recommended Board discussion regarding enrollment-based staffing at the middle schools. 
  • August 19, 2019: The Board discussed the class size study and the recommendations from the Finance Committee.
  • September 16, 2019: The Board unanimously voted to direct the administration to staff all grades—kindergarten through eighth grade—based on enrollment.
  • September 2019: The District gathered feedback from staff and parents about the middle school schedule. A total of 247 middle school parents responded to an open-ended survey about the current middle school structure, and which items should be prioritized when considering a change. A survey was also sent to students and teachers. 
  • October 17, 2019: A parent focus group consisting of 15 parents from Shepard and Caruso provided additional input.
  • October 18, 2019: Student focus groups were held at Shepard and Caruso to collect additional input from approximately 24 students representative of all three grade levels.
  • October 23, 2019: A committee of middle school teachers and administration met to discuss the Board’s directive to staff based on enrollment and begin a discussion to identify scheduling priorities and opportunities. Staff were provided all data collected from parent, student, and staff surveys/focus groups.
  • November 6, 2019: The committee reviewed and discussed possible schedules. Prior to the next meeting, committee members were encouraged to share scheduling options with others in their schools and discuss which priorities may lead to the best outcomes for students.  
  • November 20, 2019: The committee reviewed three schedules that accommodated the identified priority to maintain the team structure—including a schedule that permitted keeping eight core teachers at each grade level for the next several years. Prior to the next meeting, committee members will share the schedule option with others in their building and come up with a list of questions for discussion on December 11. 
  • December 11, 2019: Upcoming committee meeting date.