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Board of Education Considering Revisions to School Staffing Standards

As part of its biennial review of the Standards of Quality, the Board of Education is considering changes to the provisions of the Standards of Quality that deal with staffing requirements. Several of these changes would be helpful to localities by recognizing prevailing practices in local school divisions and providing state assistance in funding positions that are currently paid for by local funds, rather than relying on artificially low estimates of staffing needs. Other changes would require staffing standards for the first time, potentially imposing new costs on local school divisions.

Support position cap: The Board is proposing to remove the cap on funding for support positions (such as clerical staff and technology professionals) that was imposed in 2009 as a cost-saving measure for the state during the recession. The Board notes that this cap (of one support position per 4.03 instructional positions) does not reflect the prevailing practices of school divisions, which are funding these essential support positions out of local dollars. VACo’s legislative program has advocated the removal of this cap for several years.

Assistant principals and elementary school principals: The Board of Education is considering recommending that the staffing standard for assistant principals be set at one assistant principal per 400 students. Currently the state shares the cost for 924 assistant principal positions, out of the 2554 assistant principal positions that were filled by local school divisions, with the remaining positions filled at local cost. Similarly, the Board is considering a staffing requirement for one full-time principal per elementary school. The state currently shares the cost for 1756 principals, but 1927 are employed, with the 171 remaining principals funded by local dollars. It should be noted that the Board has made these recommendations to the General Assembly since 2003.

School counselors: The Board is considering a requirement for a staffing ratio of one counselor per every 250 students; in FY 2015 there was approximately one counselor for every 329 students. The rationale for this proposal is that school counselors’ duties have increased and are expected to grow further as a result of the redesign of high school graduation requirements in the coming years. This proposal would require additional local dollars in addition to the state’s share of these new positions.

School psychologists, social workers, and nurses: Currently, the state provides some funding for support staff, including school psychologists, social workers, and nurses, but local school boards are given discretion as to how support services are deployed; the Code provides that “[e]ach local school board shall provide those support services that are necessary for the efficient and cost-effective operation and maintenance of its public schools.” The Board’s proposal would set ratios of one school nurse per 550 students, one school psychologist per 1,000 students, and one school social worker per 1,000 students. This proposal would require a local share and would remove some flexibility in managing the staffing needs of local school divisions.

Waivers of staffing standards: In 2010, the General Assembly allowed school divisions to increase pupil to teacher staffing ratios by an additional student in certain circumstances, and waived staffing ratios for elementary resource teachers, English as a second language teachers, and newly-hired librarians, among others. The Board is proposing to remove these provisions and continue to discuss flexibility in staffing standards with interested parties.

Should the Board approve these recommendations at its October 27 meeting, the Governor and General Assembly would then need to act on them. Cost estimates for the state funding required to implement these changes are not complete, but the largest expense in the current estimates would be eliminating the cap on support positions, which is projected to cost the state $332.5 million in FY 2017. Given the large costs to the state, it can be expected that the General Assembly will not implement these recommendations in their entirety in the current biennium.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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