While vacancies are a normal part of budgeting, "teacher shortages!" is bound to be the loudest Back to School headline this season. Some of the causes have been simmering for decades and others are new—created by the influx of temporary funds like ESSER dollars. Read on to learn how to ask nuanced questions and look at the data to understand the full picture.
Vacancies & Budgets: The CliffsNotes
1. A certain number of vacancies is a normal part of annual budgeting for any organization, but especially for school districts where there is a built-in expectation around attrition, transience, promotion, and shuffling. Every district budget has vacancies.
2. At school districts, there are at least a few reasons why vacancies exist:
- Attrition (teachers/staff leaving)
- Reduced supply (fewer new teachers)
- Migration (teachers/staff staying, but moving to different positions)
- NEW position creation (no one moved or left: this is a brand new job)
3. Right now, vacancy levels seem especially high because school districts are likely seeing vacancies for all of these reasons at once. Additionally, increased levels of attrition may also be related to burn-out, but the labor data is still inconclusive ('20-21 was actually pretty stable).
According to the latest jobs report, employee quit rates across public education are up slightly but remain significantly lower and more stable than the private sector. (Source: Chad Aldeman, Edunomics Lab)
4. Low supply of new teachers has been a problem for at least a decade. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has been steadily declining. While alternative certification programs attempt to fill this gap, success here is up against a huge systemic challenge: teaching is an increasingly undesirable profession.
So, in a good year, there's a baseline expectation of some attrition and challenges of recruiting new teachers to the profession. How are ESSER dollars exacerbating the vacancy problem?
5. With the influx of ESSER funds and the urgency around implementing learning interventions, new programs, new health and safety protocols, and more, districts have created a lot of NEW positions. New positions can be entirely new roles (like a COVID Czar) or more FTEs for the same role (five versus two counselors).
6. New positions create new problems. First, existing teachers will apply for those new out-of-classroom positions and are likely to be first in line for internal hires at schools. Second, the job supply for existing roles has been expanded virtually overnight! What’s more …
- When internal hires move into a new role within the same school building, those schools are now down a classroom teacher and may have added to the total number of teacher/staff positions, as well.
- This problem is likely to be a temporary one: those "new" positions will be eliminated when a district’s ESSER dollars run dry. Teachers who have moved into those pseudo-admin roles will possibly go back into the classroom (a shift we may see this year amidst widespread shortages, anyway).
Understanding the Nuance
Below are questions you can ask to better understand the state of personnel vacancies at a given district.
How does the number of vacancies this year compare to the past three years?
Would you feel differently about 400 vacancies this year if you knew that the district had 370 vacancies last year?
How many FTEs are in this year's budget versus the last three years?
If a district has had 3,000 FTEs and this year has 3,250, then you can likely conclude that there are at least 250 new positions to fill.
What percentage of the total teaching staff do the vacancies represent?
400 vacancies might sound like a lot. For a district with 8,000 positions, that represents about 5% of positions—a challenge, not a catastrophe.
How many teachers/staff or what percentage of teachers/staff made internal transfers? How does that compare to prior years?
If a district typically sees 300 internal transfers and this year saw 800, then this shift probably has to do with new positions being created with ESSER funds.
How do vacancy levels compare for in-classroom versus out-of-classroom roles?
If the district has a high fill-rate for out-of-classroom positions, some of those personnel may need to take on teaching responsibilities, especially if they are certified and school-based roles.
What percentage of the vacancies are critical positions to fill to meet state-mandated class-size ratios versus “nice to have” supplemental or new personnel? What is the strategy for prioritizing recruitment or repurposing of staff to those positions?
P.S. The rise of remote work opportunities means that districts will need to start thinking about labor markets and competition beyond the bounds of a daily commute range. It’s unclear how this will impact wages and bargaining over the next few years.
- Vacancies are a normal part of budgeting.
- Some of these problems have been simmering for decades.
- Some of these are new problems created by influx of temporary funds like ESSER dollars.
- Please ask nuanced questions and look at the data to understand the full picture!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jess Gartner is the founder and CEO of Allovue, where edtech meets fintech - #edfintech! Allovue was founded by educators, for educators. We combine powerful financial technology with education data, giving administrators the power to connect spending to student achievement. Jess has been featured as one of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 in Education (2015, 2016 All-Star), The Baltimore Sun’s Women to Watch (2013), and Baltimore Magazine’s 40 Under 40 (2013). In 2014, she was recognized as the Maryland Smart CEO Innovator of the Year in the Emerging Business category. Before founding Allovue, Jess studied education policy at the University of Pennsylvania and taught in schools around the world, including Thailand, South Africa, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. She taught middle school humanities in Baltimore City and received her M.A. in teaching from Johns Hopkins University.