The Duval County School Board reacted to a report Tuesday that students in Duval County’s lowest-performing elementary schools were two times more likely to have novice teachers and 3.5 times less likely to have teachers who receive incentive pay.
Those were among the findings from Education Resource Strategies, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit hired by the school system to look at how it uses its resources and comparing that with other large urban districts.
Board Chairman W.C. Gentry called the report “tremendously helpful” and said it’s “startling and totally unacceptable” that there are so many novice teachers in low-performing schools.
The board Tuesday also heard a preliminary discussion of possible budget cuts, including to arts and music, for next year.
The majority of Education Resource Strategies director Jonathan Travers’ report to the board Tuesday was focused on the findings that Duval is less top-heavy than similar-size districts, and it spends less per student than the other districts.
But much of the discussion from the board was on the mention that the district’s lowest-performing schools were more likely to have new teachers than other schools and less likely to have teachers who had received Merit Award Plan bonuses. The report didn’t say how many of the novice teachers received these bonuses, which are given to the teachers whose students show the most gains on tests.
Travers said the issue of teacher assignments will be discussed more thoroughly in future reports.
Duval Teachers United President Terrie Brady said the data was flawed since some of those new teachers are from Teach for America, a national program that requires the teachers be placed in low-performing schools, and others are from the University of North Florida’s urban education program. The UNF graduates aren’t required to work in low-performing schools, but since many get hands-on experience in those schools, they’re quickly hired to stay after they graduate.
Several board members questioned if Merit Award Plan was the best tool to use to determine the highest-performing teachers. It is based partly on student improvement on state standardized tests. Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said it doesn’t take into account such things as whether a teacher has more students who speak English as a second language, are in special education programs or on free or reduced-cost lunch.
Education Resource Strategies will produce a total of six reports, including a look at middle and high schools. The reports are costing the district $550,000, with the Jacksonville Public Education Fund providing $100,000 and raising an additional $100,000.
Also Tuesday, Pratt-Dannals presented the board with $17 million worth of potential budget cuts. The district is expecting to have to cut up to $97 million from anticipated costs for the next school year.
The $17 million included such things as cutting art, music and physical education funding for elementary schools, move graduation ceremonies to school stadiums or auditoriums, increase ticket prices to all athletic events and reduce middle school athletics to four days per week.
Board members expressed concerns about many of the options, some specifically mentioning not wanting to cut art, music and physical education.
Gentry said the board needs to come up with core values and then set the budget to fit those values. He encouraged the district to consider big-ticket items, including magnet school transportation and shortening the school week or school year. And then he said they need to get back out to the community to get input about any options.
The board also discussed briefly that the district would begin a review of elementary schools, which would include public input, to look at possibly consolidating some under-utilized schools to save money.