Saturday, May 14, 2011

Governor Perry Is Wrong About Texas Teacher Layoffs & Public School Staffing Ratios

Official Photo of  Texas Governor Rick Perry from
Yesterday, I listened to a radio interview Texas Governor Rick Perry did with KRLD 1080 AM radio in Dallas via Scott Braddock's website.

Today, I am writing to say he is wrong about the extent of educator layoffs in Texas and that he is also wrong about the staffing ratio of teachers to administrators in the school districts in our state.

Below is a recording of the interview, and below it is a transcript of the relevant portions of the interview which I myself transcribed. To hear the portion of the interview related to this blog post, click the play button, and after the audio file streams down (you'll see the sound wave pattern fill up across the screen), drag the play bar to the 4:15 mark and listen through the 6:06 mark.

Governor Perry on Immigration, School Funding, and Texas Wildfires by Scott Braddock

The portions of the interview to which I am referring are found between time stamps 4:15 and 6:06. Any emphasis in the transcript below is my own for the purposes of my responses.
4:15 Question from Caller: I’m asking what happened to the financial stability that he campaigned that Texas had when now we’re having massive cuts in education and all other types of programs and he campaigned and touted about the fact that Texas had a surplus. What happened to that?

4:35 Host: What did happen to the surplus, Governor?

4:37 Governor Perry: Well what we said was that we had a rainy day fund of nine billion dollars. We knew there were going to be challenges from the standpoint of our current budget. Texas is still creating jobs. We’re still the strongest economy in this country. But the idea that we’re some island in these 50 states is…no one said that we weren’t going to be impacted by the national economy…

5:06 Host: What are we going to do with all these laid off teachers?

5:07 Governor Perry: Well first off I think you’re seeing a substantial misinformation campaign going on out there. There’s not some huge, “massive” as she used the terminology, number of laid off teachers. And here’s a more important question. In Texas now, we’ve hired a huge number of non teachers into our public schools. Administrators, etc.

5:34 Host (talking over Perry at first): Yeah. Do you stand by the number that you gave…Governor Perry I’m sorry…Do you stand by the number you gave previously…Do you stand by the number you gave previously that there was 1 to 1 ratio of administrators to teachers?

5:45 Governor Perry: That is absolutely correct. And the issue becomes the local school districts and the local administrators are the ones that are going to decide how to manage their personnel loads. And if they’re laying off teachers while they’re keeping administrators on, then I think you’ve got some real questions to ask of the school boards and the administrators at that particular point in time. 

There's not some huge, "massive"...number of laid off teachers...

In response to the Governor's statement that "There's not some huge, 'massive'...number of laid off teachers," I submit as a counterpoint a website I have been updating with published reports of confirmed school district layoffs. This is not "misinformation." These are published reports.

I will concede that not all of the 12,211 job eliminations and layoffs documented here (as of the writing of this post) are classroom teachers, but a major portion of them are. And all 12,211 of those positions represent people involved in the education of children in our Texas public schools. I am not sure what the Governor defines as "massive", but I think any industry that is experiencing layoffs in the tens of thousands might qualify as having large-scale layoffs. When it is also taken into consideration that only 66 of our 1,234 districts are represented on the site, it is quite possible that the 12,211 number is just the tip of the iceberg, and it is a predictor of more layoffs to come if the legislature cannot find better solutions to our current budget crisis. It is disingenuous under these circumstances to continue to deny that massive education layoffs are occurring.

There is a "1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators" in Texas public schools...

My second response is to the Governor's statement that it is "absolutely correct" that there is a "1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators" in Texas public schools. To make my point, I first need to define "administrator" the way most of us who work in public schools define "administrator". If you ask educators who the administrators in their school or district are, they will likely answer with the names of people whose titles are principal, assistant principal, superintendent, deputy superintendent, assistant superintendent, chief financial officer, and director.

By this definition, and according to the Texas Education Agency's own statistics as represented in these charts, only 4% of Texas public school employees qualified as administrators in the 2009-2010 school year.

The breakdown for 2009-2010 is as follows:
  • Teachers - 50%
  • Professional Support* - 9%
  • Campus Administration - 3%
  • Central Administration - 1%
  • Instructional Aides* - 10 %
  • Auxiliary - 27%
*According to TEA, “Support staff are defined as therapists, psychologists, counselors, diagnosticians, physicians and nurses, librarians, department heads, and miscellaneous other support roles. This category does not include secretaries.”  Support staff often work directly with students during the school day. Instructional aides also work directly with students alongside teachers. (Information quoted from Texas Association of School Business Officials via Texas

With teachers comprising 50% of the employees of Texas public schools, and administrators only comprising 4%, it can hardly be argued that there is a 1 to 1 ratio of administrators to teachers in our schools. As a professional educator, I myself would be appalled if that were so.

One could still argue that more than 50% of public school employees should be teachers. After all, it is true that the majority of a school's mission is accomplished through teachers working in the classroom directly with students. I, and many other educators would point out, however, that without nurses, custodians, bus drivers, maintenance workers, computer technicians, special education diagnosticians and therapists, professional development specialists, human resources staff, secretaries, instructional aides, and people fulfilling other essential support roles, the mission of the teacher in the classroom would not be possible. Without these important people working to support teachers and students, teachers would have added responsibilities that would take away from their time focusing on student instruction.

An analogy I've heard several times is apt: Would you run a hospital staffed mostly with doctors? Fewer support staff means doctors would have to run all of the tests, process insurance, meet basic needs of patients, and so on. There would not be enough time to meet with patients to diagnose their ailments and plan treatments. Teachers would be in a similar position, not adequately supported to focus primarily on their students, if they had to attend to the tasks the support personnel in their schools and districts take care of every day.

The 1 to 1 ratio of teachers to administrators only works if you count all non-classroom teachers as administrators. Lumping maintenance staff in with principals is inaccurate at best and purposefully deceitful at its worst.

If you are interested in even more in depth analysis of the ratio of teachers to non-teachers in Texas school districts, I highly recommend the following links:

Concluding Thoughts

I understand our state is in a financial crisis and that there is disagreement on how best to address it. What I would like to see, however, from anyone on any side of the budget and education debates, is accuracy and honesty. If we truly believe our approach is right, we should not have to twist the facts or leave out important details in order to persuade others to support our solution. If spin is necessary, then I am tempted to conclude there is more to the agenda than just balancing the state budget.

Note: On Wednesday, May 18th, I posted a brief follow-up to this blog post.