Dist. 86 board gets primer on staffing

Curriculum has been a flashpoint, but teacher employment is a separate assignment

The effort to provide equitable access to classes across both Hinsdale High School District 86 campuses faces financial and functional constraints.

In a staffing framework presentation at the Dec. 21 district board meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Cheryl Moore laid out the process through which students’ course requests, number of faculty and classroom availability are fashioned together into daily schedules.

The enrollment disparity between Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South, which has roughly half the number of students, means that some classes offered at Central may not reach minimum 15-student interest threshold at South. While some in the community have proposed allowing smaller classes at South, Moore questioned such a deployment of resources.

“Practically speaking, each class that runs for a full year costs roughly $20,000,” she said. “If collectively we decide to run an extra 10 classes at low enrollment ... that’s $200,000.

“We don’t need to run smaller class sizes for algebra at Hinsdale South,” she added. “It wouldn’t make sense to have 25 per class as Central and 20 (per class) at South.”

Fewer students per class also can adversely impact the academic experience, Moore said.

“Many classes rely on having 15 or more students to have meaningful, engaging discussions, activities and energy for the students to benefit,” she said, noting 25 students, plus or minus two, is the ideal size.

Moore’s comments were designed to help board members understand how the staffing level is set by the administration, who will ask the board to approve its recommendation in March. Staff is measured in full-time equivalent hours, or FTE. One FTE represents a employee with a five-class schedule. Last year the district employed 358.7 FTE, slightly below the previous year’s 361.2.

“We need to know how many FTE will be approved in order to determine if a reduction in staff is necessary,” Moore said of getting board buy-in of the process as students’ requests are being evaluated. “This is a massive undertaking, and it’s needed to be completed before we can actually start building students’ schedules.”

For example, she related, if 46 students want to take business law, the department chair will divide 46 by 25 — the ideal class size — and recommend two sections of 23 students. If 53 students are requesting, the recommendation would still be two sections but at an average size 26.5 students, within the desired margin.

“I can assure you, every conversation puts students first,” Moore said.

Classes with fewer than 15 requests could be “stacked” or combined, like putting French II and French III together under differentiated instruction.

Interim Superintendent Linda Yonke, attending her final district board meeting, said solutions like cross-campus transportation or remote learning could be used before deciding to cancel a low-enrollment course. Moore said having more than one section available affords more options.

“The more singleton (single section) classes you run, the more chances you will have of conflict in the student’s schedule,” she said.

And less access. Moore cited a case this school year when three students were denied admission to South’s one AP chemistry section because it was full. She said going forward foundational subjects will given special consideration to accommodate demand.

“We thought we should prioritize those situations to find a way to run those, because it’s a core academic class,” she said.

Board President Cat Greenspon questioned whether the academic success committee had a role to play in these decisions. Moore said staffing is separate from curriculum.

“The staffing process is about sections and the number of teachers that we employ,” she replied.