Education

Charter school growth means fewer public school teaching jobs in Miami-Dade

A rendition of the new Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School on display during the “Topping Off” ceremony Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The elementary charter school began construction in April 2014 and is projected to open in the fall of 2015. The ranks of school teachers are thinning in public school classrooms as more students leave for charters.
A rendition of the new Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School on display during the “Topping Off” ceremony Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. The elementary charter school began construction in April 2014 and is projected to open in the fall of 2015. The ranks of school teachers are thinning in public school classrooms as more students leave for charters. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho likes to say the county doesn’t lay off teachers to balance its budget.

But that doesn’t mean the teaching ranks haven’t thinned in Miami-Dade’s public schools. The district estimates it will hire 425 less instructional staff next year, according to its latest budget projections.

Where have all the teachers gone?

Charter schools, mostly. Union officials also expect a higher-than average wave of retirees this year, though the district disputes that.

“Where my kids go, we’ve lost some teachers, definitely,” said Miami-Dade PTA President Joe Gebara.

Charter school enrollment in Miami-Dade has gobbled up a larger share of students every year for the last decade. In the upcoming school year, enrollment is expected to top 60,000 students — a 7 percent increase over last year. But the explosive growth is actually cooling a bit: last year’s jump was a higher-than average 12 percent.

While public schools are expected to increase by about 400 students this year, charter schools are projected to welcome almost 6,000 more students in Miami-Dade.

“Miami-Dade County Public Schools as we know it has undergone a drastic change in recent years. We used to be a monopoly. That is no longer the case,” said Ron Steiger, Miami-Dade’s chief budget officer.

The increase means there will be about 400 less teachers in public school classrooms next year, according to district officials. Overall, the district still employs more than 20,000 teachers.

Still, Steiger said natural attrition — through retirement, resignations and maternity leave — has “luckily” always outstripped the declining number of positions in public classrooms.

“We have not cut teachers due to economic reasons here,” he said.

As students leave for charters, not only are less teachers needed but there is also less money for the public school system. Charter schools are privately run but get public money on a per-student basis. Charter schools are projected to claim $400 million from the district’s general fund in 2015-2016.

Students aren’t the only ones leaving the public school system. United Teachers of Dade President Fedrick Ingram said the union expects more teachers to retire this year. Dramatic changes to teacher retirement plans in 2011 caused a spike in participation in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, he said. Five years later, teachers in the program have no choice but to retire.

“I think we’re going to be facing a teacher shortage,” Ingram said.

About 400 teachers are required to retire by May 31, according to the union. Another 200 are expected to leave by the time the academic year ends in June. That’s in addition to regular retirements, separations and teachers who leave for any other reason.

School district officials say that’s not the case: Only about 500 teachers are retiring by June because of the DROP, said Jose L. Dotres, who heads the district’s human capital office. Last year, a combined 786 teachers left by the end of the school year, Dotres said.

There are some hiring bright spots. Thanks to a grant, the district hopes to hire about 60 new guidance counselors next year. Grants for magnet programs may also help hire teachers in specialized areas.

Spending on security may get a 3 percent bump, which means the district is considering hiring more security guards, Dotres said. Last year there were 1,600 security guards in school, down by about 50, he said.

The number of teachers Miami-Dade can hire won’t be finalized until October, after the state takes its official head-count of students.

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