Elementary schools in Salt Lake City School District are likely to bear the brunt of staffing cuts as enrollment numbers drop, according to a proposal obtained Monday by The Salt Lake Tribune.
The cuts are being prompted by the district’s staffing ratios, which establish how many teachers it employs based on the number of students in a school. Those formulas, which vary by grade level, would have required the loss of the equivalent of 76.5 full-time educators next year. Instead, the school board last week approved a proposal to vary from the ratios and cut 42 positions instead.
The locations of the proposed cuts are not final. Board president Melissa Ford said she wanted to give district staff the opportunity to talk with individual schools and potentially revise the specific cuts set out in a proposal by Human Resources Executive Director Logan Hall.
Ford said she did not have enough information to “feel comfortable with what the reduction is to, and I’m hoping you can continue talking to us about that. ... I’m a little uncomfortable just adopting it as it is.”
The Salt Lake Tribune requested the document Tuesday and, after a spokesperson declined to release it, filed a public records request for it Wednesday. The district released it Monday. District staff had provided copies to school board members at their Tuesday meeting.
District Superintendent Timothy Gadson suggested that Leeson Taylor, the district’s executive director of school leadership and performance, and other area directors work with principals to evaluate each school’s needs for providing basic education, to potentially revise Hall’s proposal.
Had the board not decided to waive the staffing ratios, Indian Hills Elementary and Nibley Park Elementary would have been the hardest hit, with Indian Hills losing five positions and Nibley Park losing 4.5.
Instead, in Hall’s proposal, Indian Hills was slated to lose 2.5 positions, still the most of any elementary school, and seven elementaries were scheduled to lose two positions, including Nibley Park.
The staffing ratios would have meant cuts at every elementary school except for the new Salt Lake Virtual program. Under Hill’s proposal, Bennion, Ensign, Escalante and Washington would maintain current staffing.
Every middle school in the district was slated to lose staffing as well. Clayton and Glendale middle schools would have both lost four positions, but under Hall’s proposal, they both would lose two. Hillside would lose half of a position, after being scheduled to lose one, while Northwest will lose one position instead of 1.5.
Hall’s proposed cut at Bryant remains in line with the district’s staffing ratios — losing one full-time teacher.
The cuts at East and West high schools are not alleviated by Hall’s recommendation. East would lose two full-time positions and West would lose three. Hall said during the board meeting Tuesday that it is not uncommon for high schools to fluctuate by two to four positions a year.
Highland High School is the only school in the district that would receive additional staff in the 2022-23 academic year. The school would add two employees under Hall’s plan.
Hall told the board that with his proposed plan, the district would not have to lay off any employees. The district would not renew one-year contracts, leave unfilled positions open and use teacher retirements to shed the 42 positions outlined in his proposal.
Gadson said that the district would need to look at class sizes under the proposed cuts to ensure that they are not splitting classrooms between grade levels.
“We want to make sure that there is at least one teacher at each grade level and I have some concerns about that,” Gadson told the board. “We will be bare bones, but at least one teacher at each grade level. If staffing dipped down below that, we just wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Board member Kristi Swett asked him to “go one step further” and keep two teachers at a grade level at times, even if the staffing ratio calls for one, or only slightly more than one.
“The past two years have been horrific,” she said, referring to the pandemic. “Let’s remember how difficult the past two years have been to see if there’s any we can say, ‘All right, maybe [the ratio] was one to 25, but we’re not going to stick 25 or 27 kids in here with one classroom.’”
Gadson agreed with Swett’s suggestion. He said that if two students moved into a grade with only one teacher during the school year, “You would have a disaster.”
Board member Katherine Kennedy reminded Gadson that many schools already have split classrooms. “It may be a situation where we have small grades but split classrooms,” Kennedy said. “... We can’t avoid that right now with the staffing levels we have at the current time.”
Some board members initially suggested maintaining current staffing and postponing the entire cut of 76 positions. But in making the motion to trim 42 positions, Kennedy said, “In order to be fiscally responsible, we can’t fund [4.5] million dollars worth of extra teachers.”
The number of full-time teaching positions allocated to the district’s elementary schools has plummeted over the last five years, from 501.5 employees during the 2016-17 school year to 417 this school year.The district’s staffing ratios would have funded just 362 positions in elementary schools without the intervention from the board.
The number of positions in middle schools has generally stayed the same, while positions have increased in high schools; they were allocated 10 more positions in 2021-22 than in 2016-17.
Facing projections that enrollment in the district will continue to fall, board members have tasked Gadson with developing a study list by the end of February of schools proposed for closure. Bennion Elementary was the last Salt Lake City school to face potential closure, as suggested by the district’s building utilization committee. After community outcry in 2019, the school remained open.
HOW SALT LAKE CITY STAFFS ITS SCHOOLS
The district has staffing ratios that govern how many teachers are hired, based on the number of students attending. The formulas are based on full-time equivalents, meaning two teachers who each work half-time are one FTE.
The ratios provide:
• One FTE for every 30.2 high school students.
• One FTE for every 28 students in grades 4-8.
• One FTE for every 25 students in grades 1-3.
• One FTE for every 50 kindergarten students.
The school board has voted to suspend these ratios for the 2022-23 academic year.