A number of recent news stories have reported that many school districts are having to scale back their already tight budgets as a result of the economic downturn. We recently asked some experts on school human resources—Jack Kronsor, Director of Recruiting for Douglas County (Colo.) Schools, and Lee Goeke and Ed Wilgus, founding partners of Systemic Human Resources Solutions—how the financial crisis has affected recruiting efforts and what changes they expect in the near future. Their answers, provided to us by e-mail, are below.
Has your funding for hiring and recruitment been affected by the financial crisis? How?
Jack Kronsor: Yes, indirectly. Last year, we started budget reductions partly due to the fact that our enrollment projections were not met. We are still growing in student enrollment; however, the rate of growth has been impacted by the economic crisis.
Ed Wilgus and Lee Goeke: We’re seeing an effect on the timeliness of recruiting. Greater fiscal constraints often limit or remove a school’s ability to recruit early. With tight budgets, districts can’t and won’t assume the risk of hiring teachers who may not match projected vacancies. The result is twofold. First, the most marketable teachers turn to opportunities outside of education that are more forthcoming, and, second, districts hire more teachers during the summer and into the fall when the quality has already taken a downward turn.
More problematic than the district impact is the effect on the teaching profession at large. Waning state revenue from a declining income and sales tax base often results in a smaller cost-of-living increase; little, if any, actual salary increase; and a reduction in retirement and health benefits. Salary reductions, in a profession that is already twenty percent underpaid compared to comparable professions, turns teachers away from education. Reductions in retirement and health benefits remove the two primary compensation components that districts have always relied upon to overcome salary shortcomings. This is resulting in teachers looking to other occupations and exacerbating both the quantity and quality problems of the teacher labor market.
What kinds of changes in hiring and recruitment practices (if any) have you made?
Kronsor: We’ve reduced our recruitment efforts outside of Colorado and will not participate in as many job fairs as we have in the past. We will also reduce the number of recruiters that we send to large job fairs in-state.
Wilgus and Goeke: Districts have very few options when adjusting teacher recruitment practices to a tight financial environment. They increase class sizes, curtail the use of specialists and coaches in such areas as reading, ELL, and math, and reduce or eliminate out-of-area recruitment. The result can be significant changes in the quality of new teachers, the diversity and experience that new teachers bring to the district, and the amount of specialist support for helping teachers cope with the demands of high-need students.
We’ve heard stories about districts that are no longer hiring substitutes, but instead dividing classes when a teacher is absent. We’ve also heard about schools that are only hiring long-term subs rather than permanent teachers to save money. Have current teachers felt the effects of hiring changes?
Kronsor: We have not impacted our current teachers in any significant ways. Our cuts, so far, have not been at the expense of classroom teachers or students.
Wilgus and Goeke: We are not personally aware of districts that have stopped or reduced the use of substitutes. On the other hand, using long-term substitutes at lower wages and reduced benefits would not be an unprecedented situation in school districts. Unfortunately, teachers willing to accept reduced wages and fewer benefits are not typically the most competitive teachers (although, that is not a pejorative conclusion). The result? When districts put a less-qualified teacher in the classroom for one year, they effectively compromise the quality of instruction they are providing to students. The impact on teachers who pick up the slack is compelling; the impact on students who suffer the effects is life-long!
Do you anticipate changes in the budget for next year? How will schools feel the impact of these predicted changes?
Kronsor: We are currently pursuing a bond and budget election. The success of that election will determine our next steps. If it is not successful, the district will have to identify some significant changes to our current practices.
Wilgus and Goeke: In the near-term, districts will experience an aggravation of the above causes and effects. If budget cuts continue, in the long-term, we will see fewer high-quality candidates choosing education as their major. As a profession, we will consequently experience a downturn in the overall quality of education graduates two, three, and four years from now. This is a time-proven cycle and it will repeat itself again.
What advice do you have for aspiring teachers and for teachers looking to change schools?
Kronsor: Much like the advice that we are getting from the financial sector: We have to think about long-term strategies. I think aspiring teachers will need to be more flexible about where they accept their first job. They will be most successful if they have dual endorsements or are NCLB “highly qualified” in a second subject area. Long-term, I think we will weather this crisis and will need new teachers as the baby boomers begin to retire.
Wilgus and Goeke: The advice is simple and straightforward. Aspiring teachers should not let a temporary downturn deter them from pursuing public education—it is still among the most rewarding of careers and economic conditions do not lessen that reward. Public education always returns as a priority as soon as economic conditions permit. Secondly, look to districts that have not compromised the priority of hiring the best teachers available. This means that their early recruitment is still in place, induction and mentoring remain a priority, and their professional development program has not been targeted for reduction. New teachers can forgo classroom materials and support to some extent, but they should not compromise on the conditions that allow them to realize a passion for seeing students flourish!
—Liana Heitin and Anthony Rebora