More than five years ago, Michelle Rhee’s sweeping teacher-contract reforms put D.C. Public Schools in the national spotlight. But there has been less scrutiny of non-teaching staff, where hiring has soared.
While teacher salaries still account for the biggest slice of the budget pie, the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke and Kennesaw State University professor Benjamin Scafidi suggest that hiring of non-teaching staff has spiked while teacher hiring has declined over a 20-year period.
Until the 2010-11 school year, D.C. student enrollment had been plummeting. Enrollment in the public school system overall declined 3.1 percent from 1993-94, but staff increased 7.7 percent. Lead teachers declined 1.1 percent while non-teaching staff increased by 19.3 percent, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
The higher growth of non-teaching personnel has been a national trend since 1950. Nationwide, teachers were 70 percent of the staff in 1950. By 2013, that number had dropped to 50 percent.
Burke and Scafidi write in Heritage’s Daily Signal that the non-teaching staff surge contributes to D.C. having the highest per-pupil revenue in the country ($29,427).
The authors acknowledge that “dramatic staffing increases were warranted” into the 1990s to address historic inequities and previous exclusions of special education students.
But now, the charter sector is educating nearly 45 percent of the city’s children, up 20 percent from a decade ago. Notably, historically underserved demographics such as special education and African-American students have declined at DCPS, but the schools are continuing to add more non-teaching staff, including social workers, psychologists and guidance counselors.
D.C. is not the only culprit. In 2013, 27 states reported that teachers made up less than 50 percent of public school staffs.
Changing student outcomes outside the classroom
DCPS argues that “non-teaching” is something of a misnomer because it’s not just teachers who contribute to the quality of education.
“Non-teaching staff is a large category and it is a lot more nuanced than that,” said DCPS spokeswoman Michelle Lerner.
New non-teaching positions at District high schools have created better student outcomes, she said. DCPS introduced academic coaches three years ago to improve academic and graduation outcomes, and last year hired college and career coordinators to help students plan for post-secondary education and find internships.
The high school graduation rate has climbed from 53 percent to 64 percent from 2011 to 2015. This summer, DCPS placed 500 students in six-week internships in the private sector and government.
Still, Lerner said, the public school system has worked to reduce non-teaching staff in the last nine years. The same cannot be said for teachers.
On the special education side, DCPS hired 38 special education teachers and removed four special education aide positions in fiscal year 2016.
From 2007 to 2013, teachers made up more than 50 percent of personnel for five out of seven years. In fiscal 2016, the school system added 223 teachers costing $14.7 million, and shed 33 administrative staff to save $260,000.
Teachers aren’t getting shortchanged
Still, D.C. teachers’ salaries are some of the highest in the country.
According to teacher contracts in the National Council on Teacher Quality database, DCPS has the highest starting teacher salary ($51,539) and one of the highest maximum salaries ($106,540).
Six of the 10 districts with the higher maximum salaries — including the two highest — surround the nation’s capital, and that doesn’t include Baltimore, which is also in the top 10, just down the road.
D.C., New York City and Chicago are in the top 10 large school districts for minimum and maximum salaries. While D.C.’s relatively high cost of living factors into its high teacher salaries, New York and Chicago teachers face a higher cost of living and receive lower pay.
In 2010, Rhee and the teacher’s union agreed to 20 percent pay raises in exchange for basing job advancements on performance rather than seniority. Aside from D.C., Baltimore and Dallas are the only top 10 districts that make higher pay contingent on good evaluations.
The future of performance-based pay is uncertain at DCPS. Henderson, a supporter of the idea, will resign from her post in the fall. The D.C. teacher’s union is working under an expired contract as Mayor Muriel Bowser conducts a national search for Henderson’s replacement.
Lerner said teachers could earn six figures as soon as seven years into their employment. “We see our teachers as huge levers for improving student outcomes,” said Lerner. “We are now a district where teachers want to come and work.”