Salt Lake City is cutting teaching jobs and will start thinking about which schools to close

Salt Lake City schools have lost so many students that, on paper, they need to shed the equivalent of 76.5 full-time educators next year, district leaders warned Tuesday.

School board members voted to soften that cut by about half — but they also agreed to begin the process of evaluating schools in the district to close. School closure procedures take two years, Superintendent Timothy Gadson said.

“This neighborhood is getting smaller…and we have to get up and face this music. That’s what we’re here for,” said board member Katherine Kennedy. “…We have to start now.”

Gadson said he will bring a list of school studies to the board by the end of the month, allowing discussions to begin in March. His list will be based on enrollment, capacity of school buildings and educational opportunities for students, he said.

Meanwhile, the board has voted to have district staff move forward with a plan to reduce the teaching staff by the equivalent of 42 full-time teachers in the 2022-23 school year.

With the number of expected resignations or retirements and the conclusion of existing one-year contracts, the executive director of human resources, Logan Hall, said he does not expect to have to eliminate the position of who either through downsizing.

The proposal being considered by the board on Tuesday night called for East and West high schools to each lose the equivalent of two full-time teachers – although Hall noted that it is not uncommon for high schools to add or lose two to four teachers in a given year.

The Salt Lake Tribune asked for the document, shared with board members Tuesday night, which provided more details about the locations of the proposed cuts. A spokeswoman on Wednesday morning declined to immediately release the document, and The Tribune filed for public notice about it.

Board members asked staff to have conversations with individual schools to possibly refine the proposal for where to make cuts.

Last month, board members reviewed a demographic analysis that found enrollment in the Salt Lake City School District will continue to decline even as the city’s population grows. A demographer told the council that the 19,833 enrollments this fall represent 3,200 fewer children than five years ago. In ten years, enrollment will drop to less than 17,000 students, he predicted.

Next year’s hiring plans aren’t usually presented to the board for consideration, Gadson said. But following student-teacher ratios set by the board — based on projected enrollment for each school next year — “would result in action that we believe could shock the system,” he said.

For some schools, the staffing reductions requested under the staffing formula “would bring our schools below what would allow them to deliver a basic education program,” Gadson said.

The workforce is described in full-time equivalents; which means that two teachers who each work half-time represent one FTE. Hall explained that his proposed cut, of 42 FTEs instead of 76.5 FTEs, would be more reasonable for schools to absorb next year.

To cover the 34.5 FTE positions that would be retained, Corporate Administrator Alan Kearsley explained, “We would use a spot fund balance because the plan is not to never touch these cuts. It’s to tone it down a bit for next year and then hit the other half the following year.

District staffing ratios predict one FTE for every 30.2 high school students. It allocates one FTE for 28 students in grades 4-8; for 25 students from grades 1 to 3; and for 50 kindergarten students.

The job cuts come as Salt Lake City and other districts in the state struggle to find substitute teachers and lunch workers amid the continued spread of the coronavirus.

On Wednesday morning, Rep. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, asked the state legislature for $10 million to retroactively pay teachers for doing extra work during the pandemic.

“We really should be paying teachers overtime for this work,” Fillmore said. “This proposal consists of paying teachers on a double-time basis to [prep] when they gave up or [if they] worked overtime to cover colleagues indisposed due to COVID.

The Public Education Appropriations subcommittee will assess the request when developing the fiscal year 2023 budget.

Prior to the final vote, board members discussed whether to maintain the current endowment even if not warranted by enrollment. The district attracts 2,300 students who live outside its boundaries, and new programs could recruit more, they suggested.

Board member Kristi Swett initially suggested keeping the current staff, for now, while openly discussing the district’s situation with teachers and exploring options such as designing smaller class sizes.

Swett said she felt the staff cuts were putting the cart before the horse, “saying here, let’s get rid of everybody, based on, you’re right, the [staffing] ratio, but we don’t yet know what the conversation will be in and around closed schools.

The district could work to regain the trust of families who left the district and recruit new students, council member Nate Salazar added.

“One of the biggest issues we have with declining enrollment is gentrification, the development that’s happening in the community,” Salazar said. “But it also comes with additional funding over and above property taxes, and that could carry us and float us as we come up with more creative solutions to some of these issues that we face.”

But Kennedy argued that it is “unrealistic” to expect creative solutions to completely reverse the shrinking neighborhood; even winning back 1,000 students seems unlikely, she said. The enrollment trajectory has been set for years, Kennedy said, noting an earlier projection in 2018 that enrollment would fall to 17,000 students.

And even if the board were to postpone discussions of school closures, Gadson said, “it will take [staffing] reductions because without reducing, you are going to have to tap deeper into your reserves.

About Paul Cox

Check Also

Rumors versus speculation, a BPA rant and the case of the goalie cart before the horse

Here I am on a Sunday evening fine-tuning a bottle of wine that needs to …