Before the vote, Superintendent John Fitzsimons gave a presentation to the board as to the reasons behind the staffing changes.
He added that he believed the district reached this point because these issues were overlooked due to “distractions” from the last four to five years and “those distractions occurred in very critical positions, from the superintendent to the business administrator…we’ve had interims.”
Fitzsimons started his presentation with “the discovery and how it came about.”
The administration started looking at school schedules in late July and parents were alerted in August that they could find their child’s schedule and their teachers, “but it did not indicate how many students were in each class. And then on Labor Day weekend … we were looking at the teachers’ schedules and what they had discovered was that we had at least 20 that had five or less students scheduled for those classes and that was very alarming to me ... In some cases we had no child in seats in those classes."
“They notified me, and I said, ‘When I get back—I was away on vacation—we would examine what was going on.’” Sept. 4 was when they alerted administration at Central Middle School.
“There’s a considerable difference in enrollment,” said Fitzsimons. “Yet they want to maintain nine teams.”
Brooklawn started the school year with 881 students and Central with 756 students. Fitzsimons said with nine teams at each school, the ‘optimal team size’ would be 98 for Brooklawn and 84 for Central.
“98 (is) a reasonable number because middle schools first became when middle schools first became the transition from the old junior high, we wanted to make it a nurturing and … more personalized learning and … teams with 100 thereabouts was a good idea,” said Fitzsimons, adding that in the core subject areas with five teachers in a team, that meant that even if your scheduling was perfect, the most anyone could have would be 17 kids per class and we knew that was going to be a problem and we were going to have conflicts.”
Average Core Class Sizes
- Brooklawn: 14 (“And this is after the reduction of 4.5 positions,” said Fitzsimons)
- Central: 13
- PHHS: 14
- PHS: 15
“What this tells me is that (the district) is providing a considerable level of support ... We only found two classes at the middle school were greater than 25," said Fitzsimons. The two classes over 25 students are an advance math class and an advance social studies class.
“One of the things that I was struck by … the average class size of an elementary school is 23 students and we found 18 classes this year (in all the elementaries) that were capped at 25 kids in a class, which is 14 percent.”
Fitzsimons added that there’s a lot of research on proper class sizes, but “if there’s any place where you want to reduce class size … is at your elementary level.” He mentioned that he has a grandson in an elementary in NYC in a class of 31.
Full Time Equivalents (FTE)
“I was also wondering to what degree are we staffing our schools?” said Fitzsimons leading into the next portion of his presentation
- Brooklawn: 101.02 FTE
- Central: 96.2
- PHHS: 111.7
“This FTE factor and information is important because … the State looks at ratios of full time staff members to pupils … and it’s an indication of the level of support the community is providing to their public school children.”
The pupils to Teacher ratios are as follows:
- Brooklawn—881 pupils to 101.2 teachers (8.7 to 1)
- PHHS—1097:111.7 (9.7:1)
- Central: 756:96.2 (8.7:1)
- PHS: 998:103.9 (9.5:1)
“The high school … doesn’t have to deal with the challenge of putting kids into teams—(with the exception) of the ninth grade teaming.”
Fitzsimons said that there are three questions that he considers when approaching issues and decisions in the district:
- Educational – Is it educationally sound? “Is it in any way going to be detrimental to children”
- Financial – Is it fiscally responsible? “We have a commitment to be fiscally responsible. We have limited resources … The last thing we want to do is put into question the personal integrity of the administration, the credibility of the board of education.”
- Political – Is it viable? “How will this be received? There was no doubt in my mind that there were going to be some parents who were going to be pretty upset with this … I did meet the other night Central with the urging of the PTA president …
"In terms of the teachers association, obviously they’re not going to be happy with the loss of the position and particularly because it occurred so late in the year … I apologize for that, but there was no way, when we were confronted with these figures, that I could say to the staff and to the board, ‘well, we’re just going to have to live with it.’ There was some evidence that this is not the first time that we ran into this problem with staffing in the middle school … My own integrity was at stake and I felt we had to address this problem."
He added that he felt it wasn’t going to be very detrimental to students and that students could adjust to these changes.
“We worked very very hard so that we could collapse classes and maintain the teams, although there were some slight variations,” but effort was made so that student schedules would not be completely changed.
Fitzsimons wanted to show “how dynamic personnel is in” the school district. “One of the concerns with parents was, how are students … going to adjust to the changes in personnel.”
- 2012-13: 46
- 2013 – 14: 20
- 2012 – 13: 9251.5
- In-Services: 741
- Conferences: 367.8
- Docked: 86
- Family: 2293.6
- Personal: 1802.7
- Sick leave (includes 955.3 maternity): 3942.5
Absentee rate based on 726 teachers: 6.2 percent or 11.4 days
"The thing that struck me here is that the absentee rate of teachers … is 6.2 percent or 11 days on average, which is a little over two weeks … I know that some people are struck with some serious illness, I’m not talking about that … therefore I would hope that working together we can lower this.”
The murmurs in the room got louder during this part of the presentation and Board President Susy Golderer asked the public, “Can I please ask for silence … and respect?”
To which the room got louder with some people laughing and clapping before quieting down for Fitzsimons to continue.
Productivity: Contact Time
Fitzsimons said they should look at improving instructional capacity without violating teacher contracts.
- Elementary teachers: 300 minutes or 71 percent
- Middle School: 200 minutes or 48 percent
- High School: 220 minutes or 52 percent
He suggested that they research other districts where “there are interesting ways in, which they schedule the school and it’s worth exploring.”
Fitzsimons made the following recommendations to the board:
- “review the middle school schedule”
- Change to an 8-period day
- “The contract allows you to increase class time at the middle school to 50 minutes.” Increasing middle school class time to 50 minutes would change the contact time students have with teachers from 48 to 60 percent.
- “I noticed this in the schedule last year; we have half days for professional development … and yet in the contract you have the ability to add another day to the schedule (as a professional development day) and eliminate those half days. They’re a real challenge for parents.”
- Current Schedule: five 40-minute periods – totals 200 minutes
- Proposed Change: five 50-minute periods – 250 minutes
- 25 percent increase or 45 more days for all subjects.
“It represents a huge increase … If I were a parent and someone said to me, ‘by changing this schedule and not violating the contract, your son or daughter would have the equivalent of a month and a half more of instruction,’ I believe that kind of capacity will have an incredible impact on how well our kids perform. I don’t think we’re trying to exploit the labor of our staff.”
Cost: Equitable Distribution of Resources
- Pre/K: $8,155,608 ($12,723 per pupil)
- Grades 1 – 5: $37,181,088 ($13,425 per pupil)
- Grades 6 – 8: $24,763,171 ($15,276 per pupil)
- Grades 9 – 12: $30,357,107 ($15,085 per pupil)
“I was surprised at that because most districts that I’ve worked in your most expensive … usually surfaces at the high school (because) the programs and studies (and) your extracurricular activities are much more elaborate and you have an entire interscholastic program.”
Fitzsimons suggested that they need to look at ways to make the “distribution” more “equitable” for the students.
Corrective Action Plan
Looking forward, Fitzsimons presented strategies to prevent a repeat of this year’s “unfortunate” decisions that “came late in the game.”
- Scheduling Calendar: Begin in November and completed in April. "Even before that, somewhere in the area of February or March, we should have a very good plan of what our staffing needs would be because it impacts the budget. 70 percent of your operating budget is your people and salaries and benefits.” He added that it’s a “moving target” and “not fixed in stone” because things may come up with staff members such as having to move.
- Skill and Control: Appoint Master Scheduler. "Someone who knows the ins and outs of scheduling.”
- Monitoring and Oversight: Assess Budget Impact “We can’t wait until late July to begin looking at what our staffing situations are at the secondary level.”
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- Teacher Cuts Upset Parents, Parsippany Community
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