Ohio ’5 of 8′ School Staffing Requirement to be Eliminated

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The Ohio State Board of Education is making plans to do away with requirements which those in opposition believe will allow districts to eliminate art teachers, librarians, counselors, and other school personnel.

Catherine Candisky, writing for The Columbus Dispatch, reports that the board voted 14-5 to approve the resolution which will abolish a state requirement that schools must have a certain number of art, music, and physical education teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses, social workers, and visiting teachers. This is explained in a long-standing rule that schools have at least five of eight of these positions for every 1,000 students – known as the ’5 of 8′ rule.

Now the rule will go through the legislative-review process and will then return to the board for final stamp of approval in March of this school year.

Superintendents and administrators championed the change, calling the rule outdated, and explaining that the absence of of the staffing requirements will give districts more flexibility and control.  Those opposed believe that the change will cause low-income schools to lose teachers and staff in areas which do not seem essential for assisting students in passing state standardized tests.

Joseph L. Farmer, a board member from Baltimore, said, “I don’t think we are going to experience a radical cut just because we give the authority to local board members. (Boards) have the best credentials and care about their school districts.”

Another board member, Sarah Fowler from Rock Creek, said that the school leaders in her district would be happy to have the authority to make their own decisions on these matters.

In an amendment to the resolution, the board required that state report cards detail the number of educational-service personnel each district employs as well as the number per 1,000 students or less. Included was the mandate that art, music, and other teachers and staff members be qualified and credentialed in the areas to which they are assigned.

A.J. Wagner, a board member from Dayton who opposed the resolution, said, “Our state constitution makes the state responsible for educating our youth, and thus the state should not shirk its obligation. We all know the rich schools are going to be fine. They are going to continue to hire those that they need. Poor schools that don’t have the money are the ones that are going to have to eliminate the nurses, social workers and the very people that are essential to making sure those students who are poor get a good education.”

In a report on the board’s decision by Sean Rowe of WTTE-TV, Michelle Hartway speaks of her son’s background in the Columbus Public School District and the theater major he is working on at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

“That would not have happened if it had not been for the foundation here starting in kindergarten. Theater, dance, music. All of those things were afforded to them right here in Columbus city schools,” Hartway said.

At the same time that the ’5 of 8′ rule was being taken away, the board came up with 16 other options that could be included in school staffs such as athletic director, transportation supervisor, and food service director. The board expanded the list of service personnel positions, but it did not leave in place the requirement that any of them actually be hired, said Mark Urycki of State Impact, an NPR project. The board’s Operating Standards Committee Chairman Ron Rodduck said:

“I’ll tell you the truth, a lot of the superintendents I talk to, especially the young ones, didn’t even know there was a rule called the 5 of 8.  So it leads you to believe it wasn’t involved in their decision making to begin with.”

Ohio law requires that all districts include art, music, and physical education in the curriculum, but does not specify a minimum number of those classes or teachers.

Northeast Ohio Media Group stated in an editorial that it is understandable that the board agrees that Ohio’s districts need freedom from arbitrary mandates, but they also need guidance from the Ohio Board of Education. The aim, after all, is to ensure that Ohio’s children get a quality education. This is made difficult by the fact that a “tightwad state government and an unfair public school funding system that relies on property taxes that can vary widely district to district” make Ohio schools’ budgets continue to shrink.

Small districts struggle to meet the requirements because of budget cutbacks, but a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education says small districts have to meet the standard and can do so by hiring “part-timers” such as an English teacher who doubles as a librarian.

The editors believe that small districts should be able to hire fewer people or use, for example, social workers from a social service agency. All things considered, unless there is more compelling evidence that the “5 of 8″ standard is completely out of step with current requirements for the state, the standard should be kept in place.