Wednesday, September 2, 2009
In-depth study: How has the economy affected Dallas-Fort Worth school districts’ budgets?
We call this a "charticle." Chances are, your student's school district is represented in this chart. How does your ISD match up?
The economy's still down the tubes, and we thought it would be interesting to gauge how those changes are affecting our seemingly least-affected population: the youth. They're not losing jobs or watching their stocks sink. Students were one of the few subsets that seem to be somewhat immune from all the trouble their parents agonize over after bedtime.
Highs and lowsHighest percent change in teacher enrollment: Sunnyvale ISD, at 24.6%
Lowest percent change in teacher enrollment: Plano ISD, at -4.8%
See the whole picture in the chart below.
And yet, many school districts are feeling the pains of the economy. Does that directly translate into the classroom? We researched to see if the aching economy has any bearing on how your kids are being educated, treated, and disciplined during the school day.
I conducted a simple open records request, asking 45 school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to produce the numbers of teachers on payroll between the 2008-2009 school year and the 2009-2010 school year. For those willing to share even more, I requested an optional secondary set of figures: the numbers of “new hires” for that school district between the 2008-2009 and the 2009-2010 school year. (We're defining “new hires” as teachers hired into a new position in that district; not “new” – meaning young – teachers. Although, young teachers might certainly be a subset of many of the “new hires” for any given district.)
There are all sorts of variables to this equation. You'll see that some schools experienced -- surprisingly -- an increase in new hires and teacher headcount. Rockwall ISD, for instance, saw a 3.4% increase in teacher headcount from last year to this year, and Joey Byrum in human resources attributed it to the opening of the district's third middle school.
Others seeing increases said they had more students sitting in their classrooms, like Northwest ISD. They called it “explosive growth,” attributing for the rare 14.5% increase in teachers on payroll this year. They also hired more teachers than last year. It makes sense, since they're opening a new elementary and new high school this year, Lesley Weaver, director of communications, says. They also opened (get ready for this): two new elementary schools last year, a new middle school next year, will relocate an existing elementary school, open an accelerated high school, and add three career academies to their high school curriculum. Their tactic is to spread the wealth. “As new campuses are opened, the reallocation of current staff allows us to utilize all of our facilities to its fullest potential,” Weaver says. “This, combined with the continued growth in the school district's 234-square mile boundaries, requires us to add additional teaching staff for the 2009-2010 school year ... and years to come." Surprisingly, the economy hasn't shoved their construction projects back.
But for the rest, the dreary economy brought with it sluggish numbers. Northwest ISD should be considered the exception to the rule. For the most part, school districts (as you can see below) kept nearly even numbers as least year, several dipping down to have fewer teachers on the payroll. Plano ISD, a big school district in the area, took the largest plunge in teacher headcount, with a 4.8% decrease. Compare that to its neighbor, Frisco ISD, which was up 14%.
It could be said that the ups and downs in teacher hires and enrollment numbers are as unstable as the economy itself. Many school districts, like Wylie ISD, are just glad to see their numbers plateau. They're not alone; Denton ISD Executive Director Dennis Stephens also sees that as a good thing. “We didn't have many resignations,” he said. “You can't hire more people if they aren't resigning.”
Unless of course, you're in a booming area. Sunnyvale ISD, a pretty teeny district, saw a whopping 24.6% increase in teachers on payroll. They hired 24 new teachers this school year, three more than last year's numbers -- and district officials can remember the day when there was only one new teacher hired in a single year. "The increased number of new faculty and staff that we have added this year is a direct reflection of the positive growth in the town of Sunnyvale," says Emily Vanek, with the district's communications department. “It's an exciting time for the town of Sunnyvale and Sunnyvale ISD.”
She may be right. But for a large majority of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, they aren't feeling so warm and fuzzy. Does your district measure up like you had hoped?
School district payroll numbers (2008 to 2009 comparison)