Superintendents Warn of More Layoffs as Enrollment Drops, Remote Learning Rises

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Education Week | by Daarel Burnette II | August 17, 2020

With the prospect of students opting out of public school this fall or attending via less staff-intensive remote learning models during the pandemic, a growing number of superintendents are warning their staffs to expect another round of layoffs in the coming weeks.

Superintendents already had been pressing state legislatures to untether K-12 revenue from how many students walk through the door, the traditional way of allocating funds.They worried that a significant number of parents would choose to home-school or send their children to private school, and that would mean mean less money from the state.

Those efforts to retool the connection between attendance and funding failed in several states. Fiscal conservatives argued that their states, looking at the prospect of a deep recession, can’t afford to give money to districts for students they aren’t educating.

Superintendents’ predictions are now coming true. 

In Florida, for example, Santa Rosa County’s school board last week voted to lay off 80 teachers and reassign 80 more after 1,200 fewer students than last year enrolled in school. 

Meanwhile, administrators are warning that extended remote learning will result in teachers and classified employees, such as janitors, school bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, being laid off. Virtual classrooms can accommodate more students, superintendents are pointing out, and therefore don’t require as many teachers.

While administrators last spring could afford to reassign many of those classified staff after schools shut down, many districts can no longer afford to do so. 

Bristol, Va., Superintendent Keith Perrigan said in a letter addressed to his staff that if the district decides to go all-remote, it won’t be able to afford to keep all of its hourly workers on staff as it did last spring when school first shut down. 

“This is definitely not a path we want to follow, but in the interest of transparency we want to share that it is a possibility,” Perrigan wrote.

Layoffs after the school year starts are especially devastating to districts’ academic outcomes, research has shown, because they can be demoralizing to a school’s culture and interrupt students’ learning experience.

California, one of the few states that did alter its attendance law to financially protect districts that are losing students, faces a legal challenge from a group of parents who argue charter schools that are growing this year will ultimately be shortchanged.