Smart Practices from FAST: Instruction and Staffing

The instruction and staffing category includes practices related to the administration of district functions and staff, including class size, online education, staff allocation and employee benefits.

* Enrollment is approximate.

Class Size

Many districts have saved money by requesting waivers from TEA allowing them to exceed the state limit of 22 students per teacher in each kindergarten through fourth grade classroom. Districts can manage payroll costs by adding teachers only when class sizes become large enough to affect student academic performance.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Aubrey Denton 1,700 Received waivers from TEA to exceed the statutory class size limit. Moving some classes to a 24:1 ratio reduced the district’s need for additional teachers. Larger classes have not negatively affected academic performance. $100,000 annually
Jim Hogg Jim Hogg 1,150 Has reduced staff to bring student-teacher ratios closer to the state-required 22 students per teacher in each class from kindergarten through fourth grade. The district has reduced staff in other areas as well. $107,000 annually

Online Education and Distance Learning

Many districts, particularly those in rural areas, use online education and other distance learning methods to offer classes. Districts also use web-based programs to provide professional training and distribute lesson plans.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Canadian Hemphill 850 Every student in grades 7 through 12 is issued a laptop computer they can take home at night and on weekends during the school year. District offers an array of distance learning classes, including courses through the Texas Virtual School Network. Teachers and administrators can attend meetings and classes through video conferencing. $13,381 in avoided travel expenses; in fall 2010, students taking dual-credit courses by computer saved the district $17,600 in staffing costs.
Coppell Dallas 10,000 Instructional software has eliminated the need for additional foreign-language teachers. $275,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Offers online distance learning between high school campuses in subjects including art history, music theory and Japanese. $150,000 annually
Frenship Lubbock 7,000 Participates in the Texas Virtual School Network, allowing students to take classes the high school does not offer. Also allows students to work on laptops during one period to receive South Plains College dual credit. $80,000 annually
Garland Dallas 57,000 Contracts with a commercial vendor for web-based staff training. Garland teachers can access an online, on-demand library of more than 200 hours of training videos at their convenience. $320,000 annually
Moulton Lavaca 300 Offers distance learning options including four dual-credit classes in conjunction with Victoria College. Allows teachers to attend Region 3 meetings and workshops through teleconferencing, saving hours of drive time and travel costs. $86,000 annually

Academic and Administrative Solutions

Districts can use technology to streamline work processes and analyze student data. Tracking student achievement allow districts to adjust instruction to meet student needs. Some districts also save money by developing and sharing online curricula.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alpine Brewster 1,100 Reduced printing costs by posting information on the district website rather than by mailing notices to parents, students and others. Also has networked the district’s printers, allowing staff to send print jobs to the copier rather than the more expensive laser printer. $9,500 annually
Bovina Parmer 500 Uses E-Rate, the Schools and Libraries program of the Universal Service Fund, which provides discounts to eligible schools and libraries for telecommunication services, Internet access and internal connections, particularly those in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. $55,000 annually
Clear Creek Harris 37,000 Developed online curriculum documents that provide a consistent template, clearly communicating objectives. The electronic format saves money on copying costs and allows its teachers to access any curriculum from any computer. $60,000 annually in paper and printing costs
Conroe Montgomery 47,800 Developed software solutions that systematically identify and track students at risk of dropping out. The systems also allow administrators and teachers to constantly analyze performance trends; parents can monitor their children’s grades, attendance and disciplinary actions.Watch No savings estimate, but district’s 2008 dropout rate for grades 7 and 8 was one-third of the state’s dropout rate.
Irving Dallas 34,140 Using Project Share, TEA’s online learning community, allowed the district to lower its cost for obtaining a learning management system. $50,000 annually
Irving Dallas 34,140 Google Apps for Education provides tools to share school assignments, cloud storage, and student e-mail for free for the district. $100,000
Pilot Point Denton 1,500 Uses data assessment and curriculum software to track and analyze student performance. Students who fail a course must enroll in the district’s Curriculum Support Initiative, an extracurricular tutorial program covering both core and elective classes. No savings estimate, but three campuses have achieved “recognized” rating from the state.

Staff Allocation

Many districts use staffing analyses to compare their staffing patterns to other districts. The Texas Association of School Boards offers assistance with such analyses, as do various private consulting firms. Some larger districts have the staff needed to conduct such analyses themselves.

Districts have created strategies that reduce their need for new staff. Some use their employees in multiple roles to avoid additional hiring, while others have found ways to make more efficient use of their teachers’ time. And some districts have directed more money into instruction by keeping administrative staff levels at a minimum.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
Alief Harris 45,150 Currently conducting a staffing survey to analyze staffing patterns and recommend savings. The district has consolidated several staff positions in non-instructional areas. $500,000 annually
Cedar Hill Dallas 8,100 Switched from a block schedule (in which students alternate classes every other day) to a traditional schedule, allowing the district to reduce teacher planning time from two hours a day to one and thus increasing each teacher’s instructional time by one class period a day. This allowed the district to offer the same number of courses while eliminating 23 positions through attrition. $350,000 annually
Dallas Dallas 157,200 Realigned staffing in its Food and Child Nutrition Services Department to meet a more cost-effective meals-per-labor-hour formula. $800,000 annually
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Partners with El Paso Community College to provide dual-credit courses. Nearly 1,800 students take these courses, which would require nine additional teachers if offered by the district. $300,000 annually
Fort Davis Jeff Davis 350 District faculty are shared among multiple grade levels and campuses. $45,000 annually
Klondike Dawson 200 Uses staff members in multiple roles. For example, some teachers perform additional duties, such as serving as textbook coordinator or teaching more than one subject; the counselor is also a teacher. Administrators drive school buses. No savings estimate, but annual spending on support staff is about $15,000 less than the average for similar districts
Poth Wilson 800 Employs a minimum of non-teaching staff – one school nurse, one librarian and one counselor. One cafeteria serves all students. One campus administrator runs each school without assistant principals. The district’s three campuses are co-located, allowing for the most efficient use of staff and facilities. $315,000 annually
Richardson Dallas 34,350 District officials frequently compare nonteaching staffing levels to those in similar districts. When staffing levels seem too high by comparison, they combine staff positions. $600,000 annually
Round Rock Williamson 41,500 Operates with half of the administrative staff cost ratio recommended by the Texas Education Agency’s Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas. No savings estimate, but annual spending on administrative costs is about $4 million less than the average for similar districts
Silsbee Hardin 2,900 Conducted a comprehensive staffing study through TASB and reduced staff by nine teachers, two custodians and two paraprofessionals, all through attrition. The district continues to examine each new vacant position to determine if it needs to be filled. $600,000 for the 2009-10 school year

Employee Benefits

Districts can realize both savings and improved employee productivity from effective and innovative employee benefits programs.

District County Enrollment* Smart Practice Savings
El Paso El Paso 62,100 Self-funds workers’ compensation. Holds quarterly safety meetings at each of 100 campuses and 25 departments. The district also closely monitors claims to verify that they are on-the-job injuries. $3 million annually
Pharr-San Juan -Alamo Hidalgo 30,500 Operates an in-house health clinic for all employees. Employees are not charged co-pays for clinic visits or prescriptions and waiting periods for doctors are short. No savings estimate, but reduces staff time away from work.

View sources.

Project Share

In 2009, TEA announced an initiative called Project Share, a web-based networking environment intended to enhance teacher training and collaboration.

The project provides online training modules from the state’s education service centers, and includes an academic network allowing teachers to share their knowledge, portfolios, ideas and classroom strategies. In addition, the platform offers access to news content. Parts of the Project Share system are akin to a social network but geared for the academic universe, and in the case of Project Share, for teachers specifically.

In Project Share, teachers can form or join work groups and forums, share files and work on Wikis (an evolving document with multiple authors). Through “ePortfolios,” teachers can present information online – anything from a personal profile to a classroom website.

Electronic Textbooks

The term “electronic textbook” can encompass a wide variety of educational products, from an online PDF copy of a textbook to an extensive online course curriculum.

Electronic textbooks can be obtained in a variety of ways. In some instances, the content can be purchased from the publisher once and distributed to any number of students free of charge. Other private companies offer extensive teaching tools that can be purchased on a per-student basis. Some products allow teachers to customize their curricula, track student progress, share resources with other teachers and download lessons and instructional materials.

In Texas, 985 school districts used electronic textbooks during the 2009-10 school year, but none have replaced traditional printed textbooks entirely. Until recently, electronic textbooks had to go through the same state approval process as printed instructional materials. The 2009 Legislature, however, permitted school districts to purchase electronic textbooks from a TEA commissioner-approved list.

Source: Texas Education Agency.