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Staffing Audit--What is it and Why is HEA asking for one

Staffing Audit

What is a staffing audit and why is HEA calling for one?

The Helena Public Schools has had very stable student enrollment numbers for the last 20 years. We have had roughly 8000 students since the early 2000s. On the other hand, the faculty members that HSD has employed to educate these 8000 students has changed radically over the years. The chart below shows the number of FTEs (full time equivalency) positions that HEA has records for.

*HSD data **HEA data

Why is this data important?

As you can see the district has been averaging in the 565-575 average FTE for the first five years of this decade, and now the number is up over 600. Our question is: what are these 25 positions? Are they the result of more special education students? Are they the result of grants, and are the grants still in effect? Are they the result of new programs that the district and the board have implemented? Are they the result of lower class size? The district has not answered these questions. Also, the district has not provided the FTEs where HEA does not have records: the union feels as though this is information that should be made available to our membership.

Does HEA want to get rid of programs—ABSOLUTELY NOT! This was a talking point put out by the district administration last spring (March-June 2020) perhaps as a way of dividing our membership. There has NEVER been any talk by HEA about getting rid of programs or positions from any level or building. We are proud to support our very diverse classes and expanded programs at all levels, and we think that these programs and choice of classes is what makes HSD a great place to learn and to teach. We are asking the questions, but in NO WAY advocating for fewer programs or classes.

HEA asked for a dedicated counselor at every building last year. We believe that the mental health of our students (and employees) is paramount and the counselor positions are necessary. [Update: 11/13/20: There are also central district and building administrators that have also been lobbying for a dedicated counselor in each building. I was unaware of this at my original writing. I am glad that we see this collaboration between HEA and HSD!]. HEA asked for a dedicated nurse in every building. A district administrator responded: “we don’t need that for accreditation.” HEA feels strongly that there should be a nurse in every building: every student (and employee) should be able to access health care in their own building every hour of every day. HEA also recommended that the district make use of a new state statute that allows a district to run a “Health and Safety” levy that would pay for these positions. The district said no, they would not run that levy now. While PLCs were slow to get “buy-in” from some teachers in the district, HEA believes that PLCs have come to be very important to the success of our students and our teachers. That success comes, in part, from our BLCs, who work with teachers in all capacities to ensure quality teaching across the district. The district just needs to understand that ALL positions come with an ongoing cost which should be gladly borne by the district.

Why is it important to know where these 25 positions are? HEA would like to work collaboratively with the district to ensure they are using our resources wisely. For example, while we know that it is a hard decision to redraw school boundary lines, perhaps this is a route to take to “even out” our school sizes and our class sizes. For example, why does a 2nd grade teacher on one side of town have 24 students in their classes while a teacher on the other side of town may have 16. Why do some elementary schools have to have combination classes (not best for kids)? Why does CRA have 350+ more students than HMS? Will our schools ever have the same exact number of students—no. Is that okay—yes. But should the numbers be so uneven that the smaller schools are in danger of losing programs and classes—no. These are problems that are directly related to boundary lines—an issue that the district and the board has been unwilling to tackle.

As the FTEs grow, the district has made no plan to how to afford these positions on an ongoing basis. When, during bargaining, the argument that the “teachers are taking all the money” and therefore there can be no increase to the salary scale arises, HEA feels that membership deserves to know the answer to the question: where have the staffing positions in the district grown? Again, HEA is not being divisive, we are simple asking the questions that will give us the information so that we can work collaboratively with the district and tackle some issues that will benefit both the district and the teachers.

©2020 by Helena Education Association