Report Shows Districts w/ Increasing Enrollment and Employee Contributions Often Added Teachers

MacIver News Service | May 21, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] Two new reports from a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization show that, while statewide school staffing numbers were down in 2012, districts with growing enrollments and large savings on employee benefit costs savings often added teachers, while declining enrollment districts with little or no benefit savings were among the hardest hit.

The findings from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) refute the assertions of proponents of Act10 that the recent reforms have decimated Wisconsin’s schools.

The new reports, “Early snapshots of school jobs and benefits: I and II,” highlight the wide variation in changes to teacher staffing. Among 424 districts, 107 (25 percent) added teachers. Last year, 157 districts increased teaching staff. Teacher reductions were less than 2.5 percent in another 125 districts, compared to 143 in 2011.

WISTAX found that number of teachers in Wisconsin public schools fell 2.4 percent in 2012. This decrease continues a three-year decline that began in 2010. However, individual district experience varied widely–from relatively large gains to double-digit losses–depending in part on enrollment and fringe benefit changes.

Ninety-four districts reduced teaching positions between 2.5 percent and 5 percent, and 98 of them cut levels by 5 percent or more.

According to WISTAX researchers, three factors help explain this year’s changes: a 5.5 percent reduction in per student revenue limits, which followed two years of modest growth; district enrollment changes; and benefit costs. Among districts with fast growing enrollments, those with relatively large savings on benefit costs generally added teachers (median = +0.4 percent); those with little or no fringe benefit savings reduced teaching staff (-0.4 percent).

However, the study shows how enrollment changes were often a bigger factor. Among districts with the fastest enrollment declines, staff cuts averaged more than 3.5%. The median decline was 3.6% among those with large fringe benefit savings, and 4.5 percent among those with little or no savings.

To help districts deal with revenue limit reductions, Governor Walker proposed, and the state legislature passed changes in state law which removed benefits from public sector collective bargaining. This new law, now known as Act 10, allowed districts to reduce costs by requiring larger employee contributions, increasing copays, and even changing health insurance providers to reduce costs. The new law also required public school employees not covered under a prior contract to pay half of their pension contribution.

The WISTAX review of Department of Public Instruction (DPI) figures show that in 204 districts, average teacher benefit costs were reduced up to 10 percent. Another 116 districts had greater savings, including 11 that saved 25 percent or more. In 99–almost one in four–districts experienced increased benefit costs, likely due to existing contracts that were already in place or unions and districts striking agreements prior to passage of the collective bargaining changes.

The pair of studies also found student-teacher ratios rose each year from 2010 through 2012. Statewide in 2009, there were 13.8 students for each teacher; in 2012, there were 14.4, an increase of 4.3 percent over three years. Teacher retirements were also evident in the DPI figures. The average number of years of teaching experience dropped from 14.81 in 2011 to 14.15 in 2012.