Strategic Staffing Options to Address Shortages

September 12, 2022 • Jennifer Barton

Strategic Staffing Options to Address Shortages

Rethinking staffing models during the current staffing shortage may help school entities eliminate vacancies, provide innovative instructional models, and actualize cost savings for future expenditures.

Many school entities are facing the new year with high numbers of vacancies and shortages of staff in several key areas. Entities increased pay, provided incentives, and worked diligently to attract talent, but the shortage continues. Now may be the time for school leaders to rethink staffing decisions to work toward a more sustainable model for the future.

The current staffing crisis

Across the nation, staffing shortages are wreaking havoc in schools as the new year begins. Factors contributing to the crisis are largely related to the pandemic, current economic conditions, and the environment of public schools. The trend of individuals exiting the education profession and fewer graduates pursuing education careers has left a shallow pool of candidates who are qualified and ready to take on the demanding work in the field of education. Schools may have to make tough decisions to ensure quality staff are employed.

All students deserve and need committed, high-quality educators serving in their schools. Unfortunately, the current staffing crisis is tying the hands of school entities. High numbers of vacancies have shifted the workload to veteran staff who already feel overburdened and overworked. Add in the increasing demands of working in public education, and it is a perfect storm of burned-out employees and few options to help ease their distress.

To bring school entities back from the breaking point, school leaders can use strategic staffing models to alleviate the burdens on staff, ensure quality instruction is happening in all classrooms, as well as free up resources to provide rewards for staff through improved salaries and total rewards. While staffing conversations can be difficult, they could be the catalyst for organization improvement for the future.

Differentiated staffing options

Creating effective staffing models in schools is an arduous challenge. School leaders must think strategically to address concerns, maximize staff utilization, and identify efficiencies in each department and on every campus. Every school entity has an obligation to balance fiscal responsibility while optimizing the school experience for students, and entities must be committed to providing the best work environment for all staff.

How each school entity manages staffing is as unique as their students and their community, but there are options applicable to all entities when seeking staffing changes. By adopting new staffing models, temporarily or long-term, entities may be able to slow the staffing crisis and create a more effective model that benefits students and staff.

Eliminating vacant positions and redirecting duties

Sometimes school entities hold vacant positions for indeterminant periods of time with the hope that a qualified candidate will eventually fill the role. Holding onto vacancies can impact the budget, and it can create a situation where a long-term substitute fills the position, but current employees take over the work.

Entities could consider eliminating long standing vacancies to recoup budgeted funds for the position and to allow school leaders to implement an alternative staffing option moving forward. Any elimination of positions should be strategic, and this may need to be a temporary measure used only during a staffing shortage.

Typically, entities redirect duties and responsibilities associated with vacant positions to current employees. This can be problematic if the workload is burdensome. However, some entities may find that the department or campus can manage duties without the vacant position, and it may be prudent to eliminate the position to provide cost savings and a more efficient staffing model.

School entities should evaluate current vacant positions to determine budget and organizational impact. The elimination of unused or unfilled positions could easily improve staffing conditions because elimination of these positions would be through attrition, a best practice for implementing staffing changes.

Alternative instructional models

Schools have options when utilizing staff to provide quality instruction to students. When there is a shortage of qualified teachers to fill class assignments, schools may need to create new instructional models that maximize the use of additional staff to provide quality services to all students.

Sample models could include:

  • Designating a master teacher to deliver instruction to a larger group of students and assigning instructional aides to facilitate student management and instructional support
  • Assigning instructional aides to teach specials classes at the elementary level (i.e., art, makerspaces, computer lab) instead of certified teachers
  • Shifting pull-out and itinerant instruction to create a differentiated instructional model where the trained teacher provides instruction and services to students in the general education classroom
  • Using a cluster of library aides to provide management of school libraries with oversight and instructional guidance provided by a certified librarian
  • Assigning one teacher and one teacher aide to prekindergarten classrooms to ensure the appropriate ratio for high-quality prekindergarten programs is obtained

Reevaluation of instructional models requires planning and buy-in from multiple departments and individuals. While this staffing change can provide opportunities, it may be harder to implement in a short amount of time.

Class size limits

Staffing ratios directly impact the teacher’s ability to effectively influence student learning. Guidelines are necessary to allocate students and teachers appropriately to classes at each grade level. While there are rules that dictate maximum class sizes in grades prekindergarten through four (Texas Education Code (TEC) §25.112), no legislation mandates a staffing ratio for grades five through 12. So, school entities could evaluate current class sizes to change in current staffing models.

Across the state, many school entities set local class size limits for grade levels based on students’ need and preferences from the community. In the time of staffing shortages, schools may need to strategically increase the student to staff ratio for certain classes.

Questions school leaders should ask when considering increasing class sizes are:

  • Will increasing class sizes allow the presence of a skilled and highly committed teacher to provide instruction to students?
  • Is this a temporary or permanent solution?
  • If we increase class sizes to an average above 22 students in prekindergarten through grade four, are we prepared to submit a maximum class size exception to the state for the affected grade levels?
  • What student to staff ratio in each grade level is the school able to accommodate that will still ensure students receive quality instruction on a consistent basis?
  • Who needs to be involved in the process of revising class size limits for the organization (e.g., stakeholders, board of trustees)?
  • How do we implement and communicate the increase in student to staff ratios to our staff, parents, and the community?

The decision to increase class size can be a difficult decision. However, this may be a viable option that could have minimal overall impact in schools. An advantage of strategically increasing class sizes is the reduced need for staff and the possible cost savings gained from employing fewer staff overall.

Master scheduling

Campus master schedules and the allocation of instructional personnel reflects the values, priorities, and strategic goals of the school. Unfortunately, there is limited evidence to show which type of master schedule has the greatest impact on student achievement. Therefore, schools must prioritize placing highly skilled and committed teachers in classrooms while providing adequate supports for the teacher to ensure students are receiving the best instruction possible.

Master schedules have an impact on many factors, including class size averages and the student load for teachers. When analyzing and revising schedules to address staffing, master schedule changes can have a significant impact on the number of staff needed and personnel costs. Schools could consider revising master schedules when cost-savings are needed or when there are not enough staff available to cover needed assignments.

Possible changes to the master schedule could include:

  • Reducing the number of periods offered for students during the school day (e.g., eight-period day versus a seven-period day)
  • Providing teachers their one required conference period (TEC §21.404) and eliminating any additional planning periods designated for professional learning communities (PLCs), department meetings, or additional assignment duties (e.g., travel period, department chair responsibilities)
  • Assigning more academic classes to extracurricular sponsors and athletic coaches to ensure more academic offerings are available throughout the day
  • Maximizing teacher certifications by assigning teachers more than one content area or grade level assignment

There are many scheduling options that entities could consider to increase staffing efficiencies. Entities should ensure any options considered meet the needs of the campus, and decisions should have a heavy focus on the model that provides students the best instruction and services available.

Resources

School entities who desire to use strategic staffing options to address shortages and find cost savings can use the variety of resources available from TASB HR Services. The following links can assist school leaders in starting staffing conversations and making decisions:

Additionally, sample staffing guidelines are a great starting point for discussions about staffing models and possible opportunities for improvement. School entities can use these guidelines to support staffing decisions and allocations.

Next steps

When school entities evaluate and analyze staffing options, it is best practice to identify strategic opportunities first and then determine what is best for the organization. When there is a crisis such as the current staffing shortage, entities may need to pivot quickly to make real-time staffing decisions.

The options provided could be temporary measures to help stem the issues associated with ongoing vacancies and the shortages of qualified candidates and substitute workers, or they could be a step in the direction of changing staffing models for the future. Strategic staffing is key to organizational improvement and budget management.


Jennifer Barton is an HR and compensation consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Jennifer an email at jennifer.barton@tasb.org.


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Tagged: HR, Staffing