The Silver Lining in the Budget Cuts Cloud

April 29, 2011

It seems nearly everyday another school system announces that it will be necessary to layoff teachers due to budget cuts. The weak economy is forcing leaders in Washington and in state capitals to make drastic cuts to school funding that were all but unthinkable just 3 years ago. This in turn has led first to hiring freezes and now teacher layoffs in school systems across the country. Naturally charter schools aren’t immune to funding cuts and certainly are feeling significant budget pains as well.


However, there is a silver lining in all this gloom and doom. As most traditional public school systems operate within collective bargaining agreements that stipulate layoffs be done on a “last-hired, first-fired” basis, many excellent teachers will receive "pink slips” based solely on the number of years they have been employed. In most of the top 50 school districts, virtually no consideration is given to teacher quality and job performance when making layoff decisions.


In a nutshell, traditional public schools’ loss is charter schools’ gain. There will no doubt be hundreds if not thousands of excellent teachers terminated this Spring because school and district leaders’ hands are tied by the stipulations of the union contract. We believe charter schools have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to hire these experienced teachers and other instructional staff. However, this bounty of candidates presents unique challenges as well.

 

First and foremost, schools or management organizations that do not have a good system of initial screening and candidate selection run the risk of being overwhelmed by the large increase in applicants. Small charter schools without dedicated recruitment staff are particularly vulnerable. In the current employment environment, a single job post on a high-traffic website might generate an extremely high volume of emails and phone calls that are very disruptive to your administrative team.


A second, more insidious problem is that a larger applicant pool makes finding the truly great candidates even more difficult. As any experienced recruiter knows, even a cursory review of hundreds and hundreds of resumes eats precious time that would be better spent having real human interaction with promising candidates.

 

So what’s an overwhelmed recruiter to do? How can you take advantage of the current bounty of candidates without completely burning out from the sheer volume of candidates? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Spend planning time figuring out exactly who you want to fill each opening and develop marketing materials that speak directly to the candidates you seek. This may sound obvious, but we have seen many schools advertise vague, catch-all job description that attract large numbers of candidates that would never be seriously considered.
  2. Don’t sugar-coat your description of the work environment and any challenges your school currently faces. If a candidate wouldn’t apply for the position knowing the brutally honest truth about what it is like to work in your school, even if somehow they did get the job, they’ll run for the exits the minute they learn the truth.
  3. Develop a strict, objective initial resume screening protocol that will yield the same result no matter which member of your team is doing the screening. This has the dual benefit of saving time and effort (subjective measures require much more mental energy and time). We particularly like “The Teacher Quality Index” by Stronge and Hindman.
  4. Use one of the many applicant tracking systems currently on the market to make the hiring process uniform, efficient and fast. Shuffling through stacks of paper resumes wastes time and energy that is better spent having human contact with candidates that have a viable chance of being hired.

The economic uncertainty and cuts to school funding will negatively impact traditional as well as charter public schools. However, the impending layoffs in school systems across the country will no doubt lead to a surge in applicants this year. Properly managed, this bounty of candidates presents a great opportunity to recruit and hire experienced teachers and other professional staff.

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