are tough. Schools are slashing budgets. But are they collecting advice and
suggestions from their teachers and other staff, or just handing out the pink
slips? The twelve suggestions below are not wholly original, but they honor the
concept that loyal and committed employees would rather contribute
more effectively--than go down with the financial tsunami, clinging to outmoded
habits or contract language. Here's what I'd try, if I were in charge, ideas
both simple and complex:
#1) Plant an idea box in every school office to collect suggestions for small-scale
scrimps--from students, parents, teachers and especially custodians who are by
far the best source of information on waste in school buildings. New habits, like recycling paper printed on
one side only, or collecting half-used spiral notebooks from the trash on
locker cleanout day, can save modest amounts. They also serve as a constant
reminder to conserve and recycle. Ideas should be shared school-wide.
Use donations and volunteers more effectively. Instead of recruiting volunteer
classroom "helpers" (then boring them to distraction at the Xerox machine), or
preparing a "wish list" of things the PTO should raise money to purchase,
why not ask parents, local businesses and community members what services,
skills or goods they'd be interested in sharing, to enrich kids' learning? I once had a retired piano teacher, newly
moved into town to be near her grandchildren, call and ask if she could donate
her piano-playing. She accompanied my students at solo and ensemble contest for
Start buying supplies and teaching materials from discount commercial outlets. School
supply companies add huge markups for materials, especially pre-packaged (and often
junky) instructional "kits." Schools pay for the convenience of
working with a catalog dealer willing to take school purchase orders, and
accept payment in 90 days. Someone might have to actually go shopping, of
course--but virtually everything is cheaper if you're canny and look for sales.
Let experienced, capable teachers accept larger class loads for additional pay.
When contract language on class size specifies no class larger than 28, and there
are 90 kids enrolled in the 4th grade, with three teachers, you have two
choices. You can either hire a new 4th grade teacher, and put 22 or 23 kids in
a class, or you can put 28 kids in two classes and pay the third teacher more
to deal with 34 kids. Something like this actually happens, fairly often, on a
secondary schedule, when a teacher takes an extra section, forgoing
their prep period, for an extra 15% or 20% of their salary. In fact, the
opportunity to teach an overload is often offered as a perk for teachers with
seniority (weakening the student load/class size impact-on-teaching argument). Why not offer overloads based
on perceived excellence instead--giving exemplary teachers the chance to work
with more students? Remember: every additional teacher also needs a space to
teach. Much cheaper to provide extra desks and materials than a new classroom.
Stop buying textbooks on a schedule. In fact, stop buying textbooks, period--or
purchase limited classroom sets for selected materials teachers think they
can't live without. Start by cutting the district's annual textbook budget in
half, then challenging expert teachers to create syllabi full of free-access or
low-cost/consumable materials and digital tools, to meet curricular benchmarks--and
offer bonuses for teachers who share self-created materials that all teachers
in the grade/department agree to use. Begin building resource libraries
of common on-line content links, assessments, classroom sets of trade books,
video clips and licensed web resources. And never buy another media security
system, spending tens of thousands of dollars to "catch" someone
stealing a $5 magazine.
Stop centralized ordering in large districts.
Once, while doing a presentation at a school in a nearby urban district,
I needed an LCD projector. When the custodian opened the equipment storage
room, there were unopened boxes stacked against all four walls--laser disc
players, turntables and cassette players, slide projectors, VCRs, giant video cameras and tripods, 16-mm film
projectors, and DuKane machines (filmstrip projectors with sound, highly
desirable, c. 1978). Plus unopened boxes of computer monitors and CPUs. The
custodian shrugged when I glanced around the room. Each building gets the same
stuff, each year, whether they want it or not, he said--keeps them all equal,
we're at it, let's stop allowing districts so large that they have to have a
warehouse for toilet paper, a centralized sub-hiring system (rather than
calling someone who's a known quantity in a building), or more than a single
layer between superintendent and teachers. Note to would-be consolidators: Big
is nearly always less efficient.
Immediately offer job sharing and flex hours to both elementary and secondary
teachers. Give every teacher who'd be
willing to work part-time a shot at proposing a position that fits district
needs, goals and budget. Don't put too many pre-conditions on the arrangements--someone
might like to teach M/T, sharing with a W/TH/F partner. Someone might like to
stay home in the mornings with their toddler, or take a semester-long unpaid
sabbatical. One-year agreements only. Sweeten the deal by offering them a full
year of seniority for half-time work, or (even better) permission to skip staff
meetings. If a small percentage of a
staff was willing to work half-time, it would free up slots for new personnel
and save small programs during cutbacks.
Open up school building budgets to the teachers and other building staff. Instead
of dividing available monies between grade levels or departments based on "equality"
or some archaic needs formula (read: the principal was once fond of this program), then
urging complete disposal of the allotted amount, as "proof" that all
the money was essential, adopt full transparency. Provide every teacher with
on-line access to the building's materials budget, and dispersal patterns over
previous years. Every teacher who wants to make a purchase over a certain modest
amount would have to defend the expenditure to a committee, and every person in
the building would have access to the records. Might foment lots of arguing
about what's worthwhile--but those arguments could lead to some productive
program weeding or even consensus about
priorities in student learning, rather than protecting legacy budgets or programs.
Hire new staff year-round, including promising interns and subs. Give them a
month-to-month subbing contract with an option offer of the first available
position, then watch them work, up close, with students and staff. Renegotiate
contracts to push hiring windows into the school year, so prospective
candidates' interviews can include actual teaching. How does this save money?
Turnover in school personnel is enormously costly--hiring procedures, records and
reference checks, induction, benefits startups and mentoring costs, plus loss
of investment in professional development and training when teachers leave. Hiring the right teachers to begin with saves
money--and it boosts achievement and collegiality.
Think about investing in programs that save money over the long run, like high-quality
early-intervention support for individual students (rather than an untrained
aide to help with management), site-based family assistance, dropout prevention
models or intensive literacy programs. Every child who remains in school,
healthy and out of a special education placement represents recaptured funding.
This is not a knock on special education programs--there are kids who truly need
the services of educators specially trained to deal with specific learning
disabilities. But there are also special education referrals related to
dysfunctional family structures or inability to read--and students who drop out
for the same reasons. It costs two to three times as much to provide special
education, and dropouts are expensive not only for schools but also communities.
Pay teachers to do needs assessments with colleagues, look at research and
develop their own professional learning experiences, where appropriate, instead
of assuming that expensive curriculum experts or inspirational speakers change
practice. Put in-house teachers in charge
of interpreting test data, or conducting lesson studies. Build structures into
school schedules (rotating lunch discussion groups? early morning coffees? data
retreats? intensive summer workshops?) where genuine learning communities can
form around emerging issues and interests, rather than mandating PLC formation
and membership. Putting teachers in charge of their own learning will also lead
to some consistency over time. In professional development, you don't always
get what you pay for, or what is promised. So grow your own.
Re-conceptualize the idea of "full-time teacher." Break role-based
work (instructional coaching, student programs and events, discipline, building
maintenance, personnel issues, curriculum development, guidance) into chunks
and create hybrid leadership roles for professional staff, which include a mix
of job responsibilities, always including a connection to the classroom. Stop
paying people for collecting graduate credits and remaining in the same
job--and start looking for new ways to use the diverse skills and talents of
teachers, reducing all-supervisory job classifications and plugging those
functions into mixed-role positions, based on aptitude and skills. It's a
business model--flattening the hierarchy. But it also provides a progression of
work responsibilities and challenges for the world's flattest career: teaching.