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Quality Counts 2011: Education's New Economic Reality

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2 p.m. Eastern time
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 Quality Counts 2011: Education's New Economic Reality(01/12/2011) 
10:14
edweekcraig: 
Good Morning Folks. Our chat is now open for Questions, so please submit them now. We will get the chat underway at 2pm eastern with guests Donald J. Boyd and Noelle Ellerson.
Cheers
Wednesday January 12, 2011 10:14 edweekcraig
1:59
edweekcraig: 
Good afternoon folks. Our chat will begin momentarily. Over to you Sean!
Wednesday January 12, 2011 1:59 edweekcraig
2:00
Sean Cavanagh: 
Welcome to our Ed Week’s live chat, which focuses on schools’ efforts to cope with the nation’s severe economic downturn. I’m Sean Cavanagh, and I cover state policy for our publication. I also wrote several of the stories for our new issue of Quality Counts, which focuses on the financial crisis and its implications for education – in such diverse areas as personnel and pensions, teacher pay, pre-K, technology, special education, and for overall state and local budgets over the coming years. Heading into this fiscal year, 46 states faced budget shortfalls, and that has meant that local schools are feeling the pain, too.

I’m pleased to be joined by two experts on state and local K-12 budgets, who can speak to how the budgetary pain is playing out in states and schools, and what’s likely to happen in next few years.

I’ll now ask them to introduce themselves
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:00 Sean Cavanagh
2:01
Don Boyd: 
Hi. My name is Don Boyd. I am a senior fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, which is the public policy research arm of the State University of New York at Albany. Among other things, we study the finances of state and local governments in the United States. I have worked on state and local government finance issues in one capacity or another for the last 30 years.

You can sign up for the Rockefeller Institute’s listserv at www.rockinst.org

Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:01 Don Boyd
2:01
Noelle Ellerson: 
Good afteroon everyone. I am Noelle Ellerson, Assistant Director, Policy Analysis and Advocacy at the American Association of School Administrators. We represent more than 13,000 school admnistrators across the nation.

Thank you for the invitation to participate!
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:01 Noelle Ellerson
2:01
Sean Cavanagh: 
I’ll kick things off by asking Noelle and Don to provide a bit of an overview.

What does the budget picture look like today for schools – and what’s the picture over the next two-four years. Noelle – can you speak to what we should expect to see from districts, and Don, can you speak to state budgets and the overall national picture?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:01 Sean Cavanagh
2:02
Noelle Ellerson: 
Absolutely. The quick answer to this question, at the district level, is to say more of the same.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:02 Noelle Ellerson
2:04
Don Boyd: 
I want to emphasize the depth, breadth, and duration of this decline.
It is the worst decline BY FAR in the post-war period. State tax revenue, even now, more than 6 months after the recession is technically over, is down more than 10% from its level of 2 years ago - despite increases in demand for services.

Virtually every state but North Dakota is in trouble.

And the fiscal troubles will continue for at least 2 more years despite the recovering economy.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:04 Don Boyd
2:04
Noelle Ellerson: 
Districts started feeling the impact of the recession as early as 2008, with relatively simple budget adjustments as the economy began to stumble. Cuts included eliminating field trips and altering thermostats. As the recession wore on, however, and the initial, relatively easy cuts stayed in place, school adminsitrators had to make cuts that were increasingly close to directly impacting student achievement. And where they are now, with the cuts to school teachers and curriculum areas, is a testament to how tight things continue to be, in a budget sense, at the state and local level.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:04 Noelle Ellerson
2:04
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- I'm assuming that you mean that we'll see effort by districts to trim around the edges, as much as possible, try to avoid core instructional areas for cuts?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:04 Sean Cavanagh
2:05
Noelle Ellerson: 
My members are reporting continued cuts into the 2012-13 school year.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:05 Noelle Ellerson
2:05
Noelle Ellerson: 
Correct; in fact, that is what they have been doing, Unfortunately, there aren't many edges left to be cut. Our latest survey reports that school districts anticipate layoffs for the current and next school year, at least.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:05 Noelle Ellerson
2:05
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don -- Here's a question about teacher pensions/ retiree health benefits. Can you please speak to how much pressure states will be under to control these costs?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:05 Sean Cavanagh
2:05
[Comment From MaryMary: ] 
With the negative press about teachers being so prevalent in the United States media at this time, I am curious how one may be looking at teacher pension, pay etc. and not have this as part of the "teacher bashing".
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:05 Mary
2:05
Don Boyd: 
The fiscal crisis will stretch out for several more years for several reasons:
- loss of federal stimulus funds by states and districts
- loss of other one shot revenue that patched state budgets temporarily
- slow economic recovery
- delayed impact of housing bust on local (district) property tax revenue
- lags in political decisionmaking processes
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:05 Don Boyd
2:08
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question about how district officials can/ should recommend the public/parents for the reality of coming cuts to budgets/programs:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:08 Sean Cavanagh
2:08
[Comment From HowellHowell: ] 
What communication strategies would you suggest to prepare the community to embrace the reality of budget cuts and the potential impact? (Blogs, community forums, etc) We have an older community, so please keep this in mind as you respond.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:08 Howell
2:09
Don Boyd: 
Response to Mary:
This is simply a huge issue. Pensions are more underfunded than the standard measures used by retirement systems. By some measures every large fund in the country is drastically underfunded. It will hit budgets through very large contribution increases over the next several years - and beyond. Even if investment returns are good. It will lead to much pressure to scale back pensions, where legally permissible. States will test the limits of the law on this. Also, many places allow increases in contributions by employees, and we will see more of that. I think these things are unavoidable. I hope it can be debated without teacher bashing, but of course we have seen a lot of that already.
Retiree health is a separate issue - can address in another response.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:09 Don Boyd
2:10
Noelle Ellerson: 
That's great question, and one our members wrestle with. Transparency is what will work. Our members who have success in messaging on budget issues (in good times or bad) have an ongoing relationship with the community and the media. They make regular use of board meetings, affiliated school groups (such as the PTO), will place op-eds and letters to the editor, and take advantage of the communication tools they have in-district, including the website, mailers, radio, emails, etc... The one thing that emerges, though, is that the communication is consistent and regular, and two-way.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:10 Noelle Ellerson
2:10
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don -- I know I've heard you speak about how school districts' recovery from recessions/deep downturns often lag behind other sectors of the economy. Can you explain to our readers, generally, why that is?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:10 Sean Cavanagh
2:11
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question about automatic cost increase in teacher salaries. Are states/districts likely to be forced to take a look at this in the years to come?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:11 Sean Cavanagh
2:11
[Comment From NicoleNicole: ] 
Do most states have the step raiser requirements we have in Ohio? These add significant expense to school budgets each year with no tie to performance. In addition, districts usually adjust the actual salary levels as well. How do we sustain an annual increase like this in today's economy?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:11 Nicole
2:14
Noelle Ellerson: 
I'd like to jump on that question, as well. Apart from the lagging response of property values (which is how I believe one part of how Don will respond), there is a timing issue. The school budget year usually lags behind the state budget. So, say State A were to recover to a pre-recession budget year for FY12 (school year 2011-12); the dollars from FY12 wouldn't be reflected in school budgets, in most cases, until the 2012-13 school year (when the state will be working on its FY13 budget).
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:14 Noelle Ellerson
2:14
Don Boyd: 
The duration of this crisis is an important consideration as districts and states think about responses. It is not going away quickly, and the cavalry is not coming. This means that states and districts need to think about how they can develop long-term plans to address declines in revenue and large rising cost pressures. Fiscal changes that make sense in the longer term are not always possible when budgets are addressed year by year. Examples:
- Many districts are in the midst of multi-year teacher contracts. Obviously with compensation often 70-80% of operating costs, when wages cannot be adjusted there is little a district can do except layoffs, or withdrawing fund balance, or slashing non-instructional costs. Fund balance often makes sense in the short term, to buy breathing room for larger adjustments when the next contract comes up.
- Consolidation can make sense for smaller rural districts, but that can't happen quickly - it needs to be part of a longer term plan.
Districts need help and support from states to make this sort of longer term planning possible.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:14 Don Boyd
2:15
Noelle Ellerson: 
I think it's more a question of whether they will be forced to act on it, and I think the short answer is 'yes'. I think forced, though, is a strong word. Salaries and benefits account for roughly 80% of a district's budget; as the single largest item, its a clear area to look for cost savings or, more accurately, cost efficiencies. I think we will see expanded conversation at both the state and local level, looking at the current teacher salary schedule.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:15 Noelle Ellerson
2:15
Don Boyd: 
Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with Noelle's point on fiscal lags.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:15 Don Boyd
2:16
Sean Cavanagh: 
Thanks Don. Here's a question for you about "structural deficits" in states.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:16 Sean Cavanagh
2:16
[Comment From kckc: ] 
A politically loaded question: Could you give us your perceptions as to how widespread the you feel the recession is being used to mask structural deficits in states?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:16 kc
2:16
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question for you about strategies for districts, going forward:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:16 Sean Cavanagh
2:16
[Comment From Ann FlynnAnn Flynn: ] 
It seems this economic crisis offers a glimmer of hope to truly encourage districts to explore new, transformative ways of implementing technology solutions across all aspects of their operations, and in particular teaching & learning. Do you see any indications that may be happening??
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:16 Ann Flynn
2:18
Don Boyd: 
To Nicole: I don't know the answer to the step raiser requirements. In NY I know that most contracts seem to have them, and if contracts are delayed in renegotiation step raises go into effect even while negotiation continues. I do think the multi-year nature of contracts is one reason states and districts must work to do something the political process normally makes almost impossible to do -- multi-year thinking about solutions. You can do things over the longer term to produce savings that do not save money in the short term and thus provide no political benefit in year-at-a-time budgeting.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:18 Don Boyd
2:18
Sean Cavanagh: 
To follow up on Don's earlier answer about teacher pensions, here's the story that appears in Ed Week's Quality Counts issue, exploring that question:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16personnel.h30.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:18 Sean Cavanagh
2:19
Noelle Ellerson: 
I do, yes. I have been lucky enough to do site visits with some of my members, and to see how they are beginning to use technology to transform not only instruction, but other behind-the-scenes operations. These technological changes, though, often come at cost, and cost conversations like this are tough to have when times aren't tight, let alone in a recession. That said, I think the depth and duration of the recession has really shown that the best way to get long-term resolution is a more systemic approach, and technology can offer that.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:19 Noelle Ellerson
2:20
Sean Cavanagh: 
And for an overview of the crisis and it's impact, please see this Ed Week Quality Counts story:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16overview.h30.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:20 Sean Cavanagh
2:20
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question about the extent of teacher layoff/fuloughs. Don't know if AASA's nationwide surveys speak to this at all:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:20 Sean Cavanagh
2:20
[Comment From JodiJodi: ] 
Is there any data on the number of districts that are laying off teachers vs implementing teacher furloughs. Also, is there any data on how much districts have been forced to cut back on teacher training
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:20 Jodi
2:22
Don Boyd: 
To kc: There is no doubt there are structural deficits in many/most states that go beyond what the business cycle has caused. Reasons for this include:
- Costs for Medicaid, pension contributions, and retiree health care that will grow far faster than what any reasonable expectation for revenue growth would produce
- Extraordinary revenue growth in the mid-2000's that states treated as if it could continue indefinitely when a prudent view would have treated some of it as unrepeatable. This allowed spending to rise beyond what could be sustained.
- That said, the depth of decline caused by this recession is simply extraordinary.
So, there is certainly some of the "masking" going on. The structural deficits in IL, NJ, CA, and NY are huge, and large in many other places. But even without structural deficits states would have a huge crisis right now.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:22 Don Boyd
2:22
Noelle Ellerson: 
I can answer that question very quickly.....AASA's latest economic impact survey answers just that. You can access "Surviving a Thousand Cuts:America's Public Schools and the Recession' online. Here is the URL: (see page 7 for the specifics)

http://aasa.org/uploadedFiles/Policy_and_Advocacy/files/AASAThousandCutsFINAL121610.pdf
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:22 Noelle Ellerson
2:23
Sean Cavanagh: 
Thanks Don. Here's a question about strategies schools/districts could use to trim salary costs:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:23 Sean Cavanagh
2:23
[Comment From Jim SchultzJim Schultz: ] 
How could schools look to address budget issues (especially salaries) by looking outside the box? Outside of what has already been mentioned.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:23 Jim Schultz
2:26
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question w/ regard to the impact of budget cuts on school counselors:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:26 Sean Cavanagh
2:26
[Comment From RoxanneRoxanne: ] 
Hi Sean. Thanks. One thing I'm concerned about is the impact that budgeting will have on school counselors
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:26 Roxanne
2:27
Noelle Ellerson: 
A more immediate way districts are looking outside the box is to use their Education Service Agency (regional education agencies that often provide curriculum, instruction, professional development, etc...) to control costs and leverage instructional resources. Longer term, I think we will see more districts and states looking at/relaxing/modifying the structure of the school day/calendar, both in response to budgetary restraints and the needs of student achievement.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:27 Noelle Ellerson
2:28
Don Boyd: 
To Jim Schultz:

I'm not sure I have a great answer. The two main ways obviously are to address the number of staff, and the amount they are paid. As for numbers, I think careful examination of pupil-staffing relationships could help. In many states and districts there were very large declines in pupil/staff ratios during the good times. Perhaps some of them are less crucial to educational success than others. A sharp look at this may lead districts to conclude that small class sizes are a very expensive reform and that some of this might be undone with relatively little damage - returning us to where we were in the early 2000s.

As for pay, I think there are some painful contract negotiations ahead. A lot of districts have very steep salary schedules with pay rising sharply with experience. That may require close examination in future negotiations.


Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:28 Don Boyd
2:29
[Comment From GuestGuest: ] 
Do you think that districts will conduct more early intervention and early intervening services in order to reduce the referral rate to special ed and how do you ensure that districts are NOT overzealous with this approach? Or, how do you protect against saving money as the movitivation to deny services?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:29 Guest
2:30
Noelle Ellerson: 
This is a tough decision for school administrators. They hesitate to cut school personnel, whether teacher, counselor, or staff; unfortunately, the recession has put many, many districts in the position of having to cut all types of personnel. Counselors have been cut, and it is a tough cut to make, because many districts had very high student/counselor ratios before the recession began.

On a related note, I am interested in, when the recession ends and we start getting to have the discussion about what is being 'refunded', what gets refunded first? Will it be last cut, first refunded? Or a more systemic approach to putting funding in targeted areas? Will it be an opportunity to make policy decisions?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:30 Noelle Ellerson
2:30
Sean Cavanagh: 
For the last question from our "guest." I've posted the following response from my Ed Week colleague and resident special ed expert Christina Samuels:

I can say that states are definitely using more early intervening services in order to reduce referral rates. Under federal policy, states must conduct “child find” services that require them to identify children from birth to age 21 who may benefit from early intervention or special education. Presumably, if someone could prove that a state wasn’t conducting child find properly, that state would be in trouble.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:30 Sean Cavanagh
2:31
[Comment From Kim KangKim Kang: ] 
Funding special education is being more of a challenge for schools as even state aid is drying up. How will schools continue to provide federally mandated services under these extreme pressures?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:31 Kim Kang
2:31
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle -- Here's a question on special ed and federal mandates:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:31 Sean Cavanagh
2:32
Don Boyd: 
To Jim Schultz:
Another issue pertains to district consolidation. It is by no means an approach that can be used widely, but in some cases it will make sense - usually for small rural districts with good candidates for merger nearby. It is so hard to do, and savings can be hard to achieve in the short term because of adjustment costs, systems harmonization, and "leveling up" of salaries. But where it can save, it is important to try to create a political environment - state support, good analysis - that allows it to be debated honestly. But it is a charged issue and again, only likely to make sense in a small number of cases.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:32 Don Boyd
2:33
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don: School district officials seem to be worried about the so-called "funding cliff" - when federal stimulus funds run out. Should they be? What are the implications of the cliff for states/schools?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:33 Sean Cavanagh
2:34
Noelle Ellerson: 
In response to Guest:

I think the short answer is 'yes'. A lot of it, at least at the local level, will depend on how the state pays for special education (do they use a system that funds based on disbility type? or a system that is census based?). Either way, our members have seen what early intervention can do, and I think the trend we have seen (a slowing in classification) will continue to grow.

Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:34 Noelle Ellerson
2:35
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle: here's a question about the costs of "common standards"
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:35 Sean Cavanagh
2:35
[Comment From AmandaAmanda: ] 
In states that have adopted the Common Core Standards, how will limited and diminished education budgets affect the ability for states and local districts to properly develop and implement the new standards and subsequent assessments?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:35 Amanda
2:35
Don Boyd: 
Sean - My goodness, yes. It is going to affect the current state budget debates significantly (now through roughly May/June) which will have a big influence on school aid for the 2011-12 school year.
But the state problems will be back again in 2012-13, so even though the funding "cliff" will be absorbed by then there will be more trouble a year down the road.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:35 Don Boyd
2:35
Noelle Ellerson: 
To Kim: The tough answer to this question is that LEAs will continue to fund the federal IDEA shortfall as they long have: with local dollars, at the expense of general budget needs. Ultimately, LEAs are on the hook. Cuts/freezes in federal or state aid just ramp up pressure on local systems (pressure to cover the funding shortfall).
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:35 Noelle Ellerson
2:36
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don: in retrospect, could states/schools have used that money differently, or more wisely, to have prepared for the "cliff" and the coming impact of it?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:36 Sean Cavanagh
2:38
Noelle Ellerson: 
Amanda: That is a question that has both a short-term and long-term answer. In the short term, the limiated availability of immediate resources will impact the decisions that states and LEAs make in designing, developing and implementing the standards and assessments. These short term decisions, in turn, will have long term effects that could range from needing to redesign/restructure in a few years to creating an on-going funding obligation.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:38 Noelle Ellerson
2:39
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle: on the topic of shortening the school day/ school calendar to cut costs:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:39 Sean Cavanagh
2:39
[Comment From Jim SchultzJim Schultz: ] 
Thanks Noelle and Don. Noelle, when you say longer term for districts abd states looking at/relaxing/modifying the structure of the school day/calendar, in your opinion how long? 3 years or 10?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:39 Jim Schultz
2:41
Don Boyd: 
People who study state budgets generally have understood for quite some time that the states' fiscal problems, and by implication school district fiscal problems, were going to be deep and long, lasting well beyond the federal stimulus aid.

In general, I think states and districts would make better plans if they were done within the context of this longer outlook. This might have made them develop multi-year plans for staffing declines, or might have made them change capital plans, or made them tougher in salary negotiations, or considered multi-year plans to share services with other districts, or done any number of things that could produce outyear savings even though the near term benefits are small.

They might have treated the ARRA money as transition aid rather than as a way to prop up budget until the good times returned (which we knew weren't coming back quickly).

But politically this is extraordinarily hard to do. So I think yes, they could have done better, but the system makes that very hard to do.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:41 Don Boyd
2:42
[Comment From HowellHowell: ] 
Can you share some innovative examples or new ideas (untested) from Districts to help administrators and teachers rethink and re imagine the education delivery model to achieve more with less?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:42 Howell
2:42
Sean Cavanagh: 
We address this in one of our Quality Counts stories. One approach we look at is being used by the Council of Great City Schools, which has developed a model to allow districts to compare how they spend money:

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16savings.h30.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:42 Sean Cavanagh
2:42
Noelle Ellerson: 
Piggy-backing on the funding cliff question: This is where the issue of school budgets and one-time funding vs. regular funding can come in to play. Don was correct in the funding cliff that LEAs across the nation have on the horizon this school year, and the next two or three, as well. The prime example I like to point to in this situation is the one-time infusion of IDEA funds in the ARRA 2009 stimulus. It was a huge infusion of one-time funding for IDEA for districts across the nation. Provision of IDEA services, though, are legally protected: once adistrict provides a certain service, it is hard to cut that service, even if the funds that paid for it dry up. Anticipating this, many districts used one-time IDEA dollars very differently than they would have, had the dollars translated into multi-year funding. So, for example, instead of using IDEA dollars to create new IDEA teaching positions or programs, the funds went to one-time professional development or classroom equipment. All worthwhile causes, but not necessarily where the greatest district need was.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:42 Noelle Ellerson
2:43
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don -- Here's a question about cost-saving strategies for districts. Any thoughts?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:43 Sean Cavanagh
2:43
[Comment From HowellHowell: ] 
Which operational or cost area has the most potential for cost reduction besides headcount reduction?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:43 Howell
2:44
Sean Cavanagh: 
Sorry, the report referenced above is from the Council of THE Great City Schools.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16savings.h30.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:44 Sean Cavanagh
2:45
Noelle Ellerson: 
Jim: I could have said immediately. The AASA ecomomic impact series (referenced above) have documented that some schools are already modifying the calednarr (going to four day school weeks), and more anticipate doing so in the coming years. Specifically, six percent of respondents to the December 2010 survey said they had cut to a four-day school week for this school year, and 17 percent anticipate doing so in the 2011-12 school year. I think other modifications, such as months per year are more on the 3-5 year horizon, and more intense modifications are even further down the road.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:45 Noelle Ellerson
2:47
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle: on gifted and talented programs in this economy:
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:47 Sean Cavanagh
2:47
[Comment From RoxanneRoxanne: ] 
Also, is there a trend in the way districts are managing Gifted & Talented or AP coures? Are districts maintaining these special interests? Or is there a tendency for these programs to but cut?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:47 Roxanne
2:48
Noelle Ellerson: 
Howell: I hear my members talking about cost-savings associated with operations, the behind-the-scenes component of running their district, and the potential for saving money there. It's an issue of having access to the more cost efficient operations, being able to afford the change, the the regular discussions of contracts, etc...This also ties in to the technology question from earlier.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:48 Noelle Ellerson
2:49
Don Boyd: 
To Howell:
I'm not sure I have great ideas about that and I'm hoping Noelle can chime in with closer-to-the-ground thoughts. I think districts will have to address retiree health care issues because in most places these costs are (a) large, (b) likely to grow rapidly, and (c) legally possible to cut back. It won't be pleasant. It means changing the expectation for compensation.

I think beyond that, you need to be closer to school budgets than I am to have good, constructive ideas. I think that as administrative staff retire it makes a lot of sense to explore sharing of services with other districts (and sometimes even without retirements), but a lot of times you have to spend money first (e.g., to make systems compatible). I think districts should do all of the things that good business managers undoubtedly already are doing - examining transportation scheduling closely, looking for energy efficiencies, and so on. Perhaps most important is to make sure you've defined your mission clearly so that you can cut out spending that is not crucial to that mission.

Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:49 Don Boyd
2:51
Noelle Ellerson: 
Roxanne: The only trend I can document around any decision to cut/modify a curricular offering (whether a remedial course or AP) was that they were safeguarded as much as, and for as long as, possible. That said, the general practice was that LEAs held on to these programs for as long as they could.

Check page 8 of the AASA survey above. It documents how my members have described the cuts they made this school year, and anticipate for next year, for a host of classes (summer school, academic, high-cost, electives, etc....)
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:51 Noelle Ellerson
2:52
Sean Cavanagh: 
Don: This is more of a speculative question. K-12 seems to be relatively insulated from budget cuts, in a poor economy. Looking ahead, how realistic is it to think that K-12 will still be shielded at the state level?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:52 Sean Cavanagh
2:52
Sean Cavanagh: 
Noelle: Here's a follow-up question on "refunding."
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:52 Sean Cavanagh
2:52
[Comment From kckc: ] 
Thanks to all. To Noelle--- Would you talk more about what you think would be a systemic way of "refunding" and if that is a positive or negative approach?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:52 kc
2:53
Noelle Ellerson: 
To Howell, in response to Don: I agree with Don's assessment of health care and pensions. i've done ten surveys on the impact of the recession, and looking at and modifying the provision of benefits (pension or health) is something that came on the radar in the last two or so iterations of the surveys. More districts are taking a look at these high-cost budget components.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:53 Noelle Ellerson
2:56
[Comment From KatieKatie: ] 
What role might technology play in helping schools to keep costs low? Are there certain areas in education that could benefit financially from implementing technologies?
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:56 Katie
2:56
Noelle Ellerson: 
First, on the insulated position of K-12 funding: I think K-12 funding has been insulated at the state level. If you look at the timing of initial cuts, and the proportion of overall cuts, the K-12 portion of state budgets more often than not had a protected position. There is the possibility, however, that the protected position in a time of cuts may impact how education is funded as we emerge from the recession: larger proportions may go to other budget areas that were more drastically cut.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:56 Noelle Ellerson
2:56
Sean Cavanagh: 
Katie -- Please see my collegue Ian Quillen's Quality Counts story on this topic (and his past Ed Week stories). One issue we discuss in the report is the pressure districts face to use technology in ways that save money, as opposed to simply being an add-on.

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/01/13/16technology.h30.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:56 Sean Cavanagh
2:59
Don Boyd: 
To Sean re: K-12 shielding. Yes, academic research and armchair political observation both have confirmed that in general, states have shielded K-12 education from the worst of state spending cuts. And this is hard to do because K-12 spending (school aid, primarily) is usually the largest or second-largest spending item in the typical state budget. It is a testament to the political support for education and perhaps to legislative commitment to investment in the economy.

I think as a general statement, this will remain true. That is, RELATIVE to other items in the state budget, K-12 education will do well. Even though demand for higher ed actually rises in recessions, state support for higher ed often falls (and tuition rises) perhaps because people old enough to be in the workforce are less sympathetic to legislators than are elementary and secondary school children. And demand for Medicaid also goes up in recessions; states have not scaled it back much, but may start to do so after federal stimulus is gone. But I think K-12 will have relatively greater support. But "relatively" will mean it is being cut in many places - just not as much as other items in the budget.

And I do think - picking up on the point one person raised about teacher bashing earlier - that the citizenry are somewhat less supportive of the people actually providing education than they were in past recessions.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 2:59 Don Boyd
3:00
Noelle Ellerson: 
To KC: This refunding question is a wonkish one that I hope we can start to have sooner, rather than later. The cuts that came should, in theory, translate into an opporutnity to reinvest dollars as they once again become available. I think it would be a missed opportunity to automatically place every dollar where it had been, instead of allowing LEAs to target the dollars to need.

I think you nailed it on the head when you called for a systemic dicussion around refunding. That said, the systemic approach that works in a small Montana town will be different than what would work in even a less-small Montana town. I think the most effective discussions around reinvestment will be more local, with state and federal policy being more general and flexibile.

Flexibility can be as good as new money, so if districts find themselves with increasing coffers and flexibility, I think education could be in a good position. Please note, flexibility by no means waives accountability. It is clear to me that AASA's members have very very few qualms about accountability.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:00 Noelle Ellerson
3:00
Sean Cavanagh: 
To Noelle's point above about K-12 budgets being protected from the budget ax. See California Gov. Jerry Brown's budget, unveiled this week, which called for sweeping reductions in state spending -- but left K-12 relatively unscathed.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/state_edwatch/2011/01/browns_budget_brings_massive_cuts_but_spares_k-12_education.html
Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:00 Sean Cavanagh
3:02
Sean Cavanagh: 
That's all the time we have today, folks. My thanks to our guests, and to our readers for taking part in this important discussion.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:02 Sean Cavanagh
3:03
Noelle Ellerson: 
Thank you for your questions, and thank you for hosting, Sean.

Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:03 Noelle Ellerson
3:03
Don Boyd: 
Yes, thank you Sean, and thanks all for your interest.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:03 Don Boyd
3:03
edweekcraig: 
Hats off to Sean for moderating, terrific job. There will be a transcript of this chat posted within the hour. Cheers.
Wednesday January 12, 2011 3:03 edweekcraig
3:05
 

 
 
 

Quality Counts 2011: Education's New Economic Reality

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2 p.m. Eastern time

Chat With Donald J. Boyd & Noelle Ellerson
School districts across the country are struggling through the nation’s most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression, even as they face continued pressure to raise student achievement and improve instruction. Many school officials report having made deep budget cuts to electives and extracurricular activities, summer and after-school programs, and having raised class sizes and laid off teachers and other employees. There’s little relief in sight: Economists say it could be years before state and local budgets recover to pre-recession levels. Given these realities, how are school districts likely to cope with lean budgets in the time ahead? And what strategies can school leaders consider that have the potential to keep costs low while pursuing their academic goals?

Join Education Week and our panel of education experts for a conversation about the impact of the "Great Recession" on schools and options for schools seeking to improve instruction and student learning during these difficult times.

Guests:
Donald J. Boyd, Senior Fellow, Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, University of Albany, State University of New York.
Noelle Ellerson, Assistant Director, Policy Analysis & Advocacy, American Association of School Administrators.
Sean Cavanagh, Assistant Editor for Education Week, will moderate this chat.

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