DPS plans to add teachers after laying off aides

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Bobbi Hartsog, an aide at Kiser school in Dayton, describes her duties.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Dayton Public Schools is on track to avoid nearly all teacher layoffs at its Thursday board meeting, but it is slated to lay off or remove from classrooms more than 30 instructional aides, who teachers say are crucial to the learning process.

The update on the teachers’ status comes after a weeks-long transfer and bumping process that started with 26 teachers’ jobs at risk, and ends with the layoff of three teachers who chose not to accept reassignment, according to union president David Romick.

“There’s a decision-making process, where people say, would I rather have this position that I don’t particularly want, perhaps in a building I don’t particularly want, or would I rather be unemployed?” Romick said. “There were lots of emotional people, obviously. They were settled into their school and had three months with their students (before these moves). It certainly is disruptive.”

On Tuesday, DPS school board president Adil Baguirov added a new wrinkle to the process, saying the district plans to hire more teachers that will make up for the cuts of classroom aides, also called paraprofessionals.

“Instead of paraprofessionals, who are not certified and often don’t have college degrees in education or related fields, DPS now plans to have 28 new teachers, one for each building, to augment data-driven, modern, research-based education,” Baguirov said.

It was not immediately clear how the staff moves — layoffs of 20 administrators last week, an estimated 40 total cuts to be voted on Thursday, and the 28 hires that Baguirov mentioned for the first time Tuesday — fit together financially. District officials have said millions of dollars in cuts per year are necessary because of an unexpected drop in enrollment that will lead to less state funding.

Classroom aides generally max out around $25,000 per year, while certified teachers in Dayton make between $38,000 and $71,000. Baguirov said those new teachers would be paid with the same Title 1 funding stream for low-income students that paid the 32 or 33 laid-off aides.

DPS Assistant Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the Title 1 money from the laid-off aides would also be used for professional development on blended learning, literacy and teacher leadership.

While state money is expected to decrease mid-year for DPS because of a drop in enrollment, federal Title 1 funding is basically constant until next school year, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

One school’s example

Several teachers spoke highly of the Title 1 classroom aides who are being let go. The aides often work with small groups of students who are struggling or with advanced kids while the teacher works with the rest of students, allowing each group to move at its own pace.

Sherrie Sanders, a teacher at Kiser PreK-6 School, said the district couldn’t have gotten its “A” in student growth on the state report card without the aides headed for layoff.

Title 1 paraprofessional Bobbi Hartsog had her usual busy morning at Kiser school last Friday.

At breakfast, she mothered dawdling young children into eating their food so they would have energy for the school day. She helped three second-graders to read, comprehend and write about a nature book, then led distracted kindergarteners through a multi-step, computer-based literacy program.

She gave candy and congratulations when kids succeeded, and stern warnings when they disturbed others’ work. And she inspired two students who arrived from Africa within the past month to work on the very basics — their ABCs.

Hartsog, who has spent 30 years as a classroom aide, is slated to be laid off this week because she declined the option to become a bus aide at fewer hours per day, or an aide for physically handicapped students, a job for which she said she isn’t physically capable.

“I was told by one of the board members that the Chromebook (computers) were to replace the paraprofessionals, and I feel that’s an absolutely ridiculous statement,” Hartsog said. “When they need their milk opened and their shoes tied, and need hugs because they’re in a new country, somebody has to do that, and I don’t think a Chromebook can do that.”

Technology questions

Baguirov said layoffs are due to the enrollment decline, not the Chromebook-per-student initiative, and emphasized that the district would still have almost 200 other instructional aides at work if the layoffs went through.

“DPS’ 1-to-1 technology initiative is working well, which is why we are significantly expanding it ahead of schedule,” Baguirov said. “Most teachers, parents and kids love it and find kids more engaged and disciplined, test scores rising, college and career readiness improving.

“These gains are thanks to both software/hardware chosen by us and by the work of licensed, certified, college-educated teachers.”

Sarah Richards, a licensed reading teacher paid via Title 1, said Friday’s effort to get a room of 20 Kiser kindergarteners logged into Chromebooks and engaged in an Imagine Learning online reading lesson was an example of the need for aides. For that special effort, five adults were scrambling to solve 20 kindergarteners’ needs — tangled headphones and malfunctioning computers, plus the organizational, academic and attention-based problems a room full of 5-year-olds can have.

“I’m supposed to be pulling out a small group and helping them, but I can’t do that because we need so many hands here,” Richards said. “That’s why we need paraprofessionals.”

Ohio Department of Education data shows the number of instructional aides increased every year from 2011-15. Kiser Principal James Fowler understands the need.

“We’re going to rethink how we deliver services based on them not being here,” Fowler said. “They make our 1-to-1 technology work. … It’ll be a big loss. They’re just so valued.”

Structuring staff

Teachers, aides and administrators were not the only ones to receive layoff notices. Two mental health technicians were on the layoff list the district provided last week, along with six building trades employees and one of the eight clerical employees who got the initial displacement letters. Four operations employees also got layoff notices but had the opportunity to switch to other jobs.

Superintendent Rhonda Corr said last month that she brought in two outside consultants to do a review of district staffing levels and efficiency, helping shape the job cuts and realignment. Corr said the consultants were Deborah Heater, who spent years leading human resources efforts for Cincinnati Public Schools, and attorney David Lampe of Bricker & Eckler.

Heater’s company was paid $19,800 for its work on the “rightsizing” initiative. The contract was technically with the Montgomery County Educational Service Center, with Lolli as a signatory. Lolli was one of two new top central office administrators hired by the board this fall on Corr’s recommendation.

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