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Duval Schools Budget Talks: Assistant Principals Will Stay But Others Might Go

The latest round of Duval County school budget talks will put another group of school employees at ease, but not all.Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and school board members have agreed to keep all the district’s assistant principals on as 12-month employees. The decision follows news that the district will receive a nearly $4 million boost in federal funding next year.

It's a departure from an earlier proposal this month that sought to switch some assistant principals in smaller, low-incident schools to a 10-month year. That prospect received pushback from assistant principals around the district who said the reduction could amount to a $6,000 pay cut.

“I don’t believe that $1 million-worth of savings was worth the loss in possible future leaders when you’re looking at school-level leadership,” Vitti said.

It also would not be very cost-effective, once leave-time pay associated with the shift factored in.

"By going to 10 months, it would have meant paying back $2 million in annual leave," Vitti said.

The district also plans to fully fund all middle and high school test chairs in the district, but only for 10 months. Currently, the positions are funded for 12 months.

A proposal earlier this month would have provided funding for only half of the positions for 10 months.

Vitti said the district recently learned it will receive an additional $3.9 million in Title I funding next school year, which will help free up money to fund the positions.

Title I funds go toward schools with high concentrations of low-income students. Duval has more than 80 such schools in the district. Annually, Vitti said the district receives about $35 million in Title I funds.

With the increase in federal funds, the district plans to do some strategic shifting to make more general revenue funds available for the assistant principal positions.

For instance, math coaches working in low-income schools will be funded through Title I next year. Currently, all math coaches are funded through Title II money, which covers programs related to professional development. Test chairs, which were originally funded through district money, will be designated as Title II positions next year and therefore, receive federal funding.

“That frees up money in general revenue to then refund assistant principals at 12 months,” he said.
During Wednesday’s budget meeting, school board member Fred “Fel” Lee said the move will send a signal of confidence to the school’s administrators and future leaders.

“At the end of the day, there’s always a cost to great leadership,” Lee said. “Hopefully, that is a breeding ground for your next level leadership, which are your principals.”

But the fate of nearly 300 other administrative-level employees in the district remains up in the air.

About 220 district- and school-level clerical workers could lose their jobs if Vitti cannot reach a resolution with union members about funding for the positions. Currently, the district is in negotiations with Duval Teachers United about the positions.

About 65 security guards will also face cuts next year. Vitti and school board members agreed to reductions to the district’s 239-person security staff earlier this month. The remaining pool of security guards will be allocated to schools according to size and the number of incidents that occur on campus.  

The total cost-savings of the reduction in security and clerical staff is estimated at $7.1 million, according to the district.

The district also plans to cut other costs by using a new class-size model.  Under that model, the district would calculate class size limits by school average instead of spending additional funds to comply with state rules. Vitti has said the plan would save the district about $4 million.

A master schedule outlining the new class-size limits was distributed to school administrators earlier this month.

Under it, core classes, such as math, science and language arts would be allowed a maximum of 30 students; but accelerated core classes, such as Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) math and science, would allow up to 32 students.

Accelerated courses in non-core curriculum subjects, including those in the IB or Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) program, would be allowed up to 38 students. Other elective courses would also be capped at 38, although the schedule states that “band, drama and chorus should be determined at the school level based on room sizes and teacher recommendation.”

Physical education classes would be allowed a maximum of 60 students.

While the number of students per class may go up next year, the number of specialized teachers working closely with underperforming students in each school will increase as well, Vitti said. The interventionists--as they are called--are certified teachers who focus on improving student reading proficiency.

“This year every school will have a part-time interventionist or a part-time interventionist,” he said.
Previously, schools funded the positions through their own budgets. Next year, the interventionists will be funded through federal money.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

CORRECTION: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated the number of months the district plans to fund test chair positions. Under the district's budget revisions, all secondary test chairs will work a 10-month year.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.