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School Audit Report Highlights Opportunities For Savings

At the Same Time, Preserving High Quality Education

 The school district has released the second of two consulting reports which were done largely in response to similar studies undertaken by the town of Groton to review town government efficiency. The first report, covering operations, was released last fall and triggered moves by the school administration to investigate outsourcing some non-educational tasks, such as custodial and cafeteria work.

   The second report by District Management Group covers the efficiency of the district’s educational programs, which consume the majority of the district’s approximately $30M budget. Although the report praises the overall efficiency of the GDRSS, the report also points out some changes that could potentially trim staffing by 38 to 69 full-time equivalency employees resulting in millions of dollars in potential savings. 

   The report is careful to call this “re-purposing” which aligns with the school committee’s message that any savings that come about as a result of these external reports will be reinvested in educational resources by the district and not be used to reduce the bottom line. Unfortunately, this makes conclusions somewhat confusing as the report does not distinguish between positions that can be eliminated and those that, when eliminated, would require hiring elsewhere in the district.

   In its recommendations one of the most straightforward and high impact suggestions is that small increases in class size could result in significantly fewer teaching resources needed across the district, with little impact on educational quality. The consultants include extensive statistics showing the various options by grade level.

   One of the largest potential efficiencies from a district headcount perspective is the paraprofessional staff employed to help students with everything from mobility to academics. According to the report, the district has almost one and a half times the average number of paraprofessionals on staff as other schools studied, largely because they have become involved in academic coaching, which the report suggests is better left to the full-time educators on staff. (Readers may recall that last year a handful of para-professionals were terminated by the district when it was discovered they were not assigned to any students.)

   One of the most complex recommendations is phasing out the co-teaching/time model which is being practiced mostly in the Middle School. In order to understand the context for some of the report recommendations one needs to be aware of the significant changes that have occurred in education over the past few decades.  

   Federal law mandates and the state of Massachusetts strictly enforces the notion that the educational system must work to overcome any barrier to a child’s education, from learning disabilities to stress. A portion of the student population is enrolled in the special education program which requires that a custom learning plan, called an ILP, be put in place which documents the special services the district must provide to that student. In addition the district employs a number of educators who serve as coaches in a particular subject areas for those students not necessarily enrolled in SPED, but who need extra help in reading, math, etc. This practice has been shown to have a positive impact on standardized test scores.

 

   This becomes more complicated because of what educators call “the inclusion policy,” which means that classrooms  include a cross-section of students with different learning abilities. The middle school, and to some degree the other grade levels, manage this with an approach called team-teaching whereby each classroom is staffed with two-four teachers all working in parallel. One teacher serves as the lead with the others helping students that need extra help (typically one teacher on the team is focused on SPED students and is a SPED specialist).  

   The report points out that although this team teaching approach is in widespread use across the state, it is beginning to fall out of favor because research shows it is not as effective as hoped. The report suggests that shifting away from this resource-intensive system would lead to a number efficiencies without negatively impacting learning.

   The report also suggests a number of modifications that could be made to team-teaching implementation if it is kept in place.  

   For example the district has chosen a team-teaching model which assures that students see the same teachers every day in the classroom. This leads to difficulties in efficiently scheduling teaching resources. The report suggests that in the future the district hire teachers who are certified to teach multiple subjects to allow for more flexibility in scheduling.

   A more controversial aspect is class size limits. When one sets a maximum of 25 students per class (the current GDRSS goal) should it take into account that there may be as many as four teachers in many classrooms?

   The report acknowledges that modifying or even phasing out the team-teaching model would be a complex undertaking and would likely only be feasible if the changes were made incrementally.

   Although the efficiencies detailed in the report are intriguing, it’s also clear implementing some of the suggested changes could be complex and emotionally uncomfortable for all involved. However, it is also clear that with the district’s expenses compounding at a rate significantly higher than property tax revenues, having fewer full-time employees on the district payroll would be a big help in balancing the budget without Proposition 2.5 overrides.

   Copies of the report should be available from the GD district.  A copy of the report is attached below for our readers.

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