by Dr. Robert Luebke
Senior Fellow, Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Now that personnel data for local public schools has been posted by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, we have data on how the pandemic may have impacted staffing levels in local school districts.
The table below lists staff by category at Wake County Public Schools (WCPSS) for the past three years. According to the table, non-certified staff at WCPSS absorbed the most losses (487). The category with the most gains; teachers (284).
Some other noteworthy items:
Trends. Between 2020 and 2022 WCPSS added sixty-seven full-time employees. By comparison, total employment in North Carolina’s second largest school district, Charlotte Mecklenburg County Schools declined by 314 employees during the same time period.
Teachers: Over last two years, WCPSS hired a net 284 more teachers. That figure is a result of releasing 181 during the first year of the pandemic and hiring 465 a year later. The total number of WCPSS teachers is now 11,023.
Administrators: After releasing one administrator in 2021, WCPSS hired forty-nine new administrators in 2022.
Professional Staff. During 2020-21 WCPSS professional staff increased by 156, and the second year by fifty-six for a two-year total of 221. Behind teachers, professional staff incurred the second greatest increase of all categories.
Non-Certified Staff: In order to meet pandemic related challenges, 418 non-certified staff were released in 2021. This was followed by another 69 in 2022, bringing the loss to 487 employees over the two-year period.
As mentioned earlier, WCPSS has over 19,600 total employees. By far most of those employees — approximately 14,700 – are state employees. How did covid impact the mix of employment funding?
State: After expanding by over one hundred employees during the first year of the pandemic (2020-21), the number of state-funded employees, declined by 549 during the second year of the pandemic, for a net decline of 443 state employees.
Local: The number of local employees declined significantly (554) in 2021, only to gain back all those employees and more (561) for a net gain of seven local-funded employees over the pandemic.
Federal: After only hiring six new federal employees in 2021, North Carolina public schools hired 497 federal employees in 2022, for a total of 503 new federal employees.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, WCPSS received $431.9 million in federal covid-relief funds. As of February 28, 2022, WCPSS spent only $178.1 million of that amount, or about 41 percent of its funds.
The data provides an interesting, albeit incomplete outline of how WCPSS has sought to respond to the covid-19 pandemic. However, it doesn’t answer important questions like: Did Covid money improve student outcomes and learning loss? How will all the new federal employees be funded once covid-money is spent? Were the additional WCPSS employees a result of new staff at two schools or more directly tied to covid-related changes? Also, why would new schools be opening when most WCPSS schools pivoted to virtual learning?
These developments show that the pandemic and federal response had a huge impact on staffing. They also highlight the need to demonstrate how federal spending is addressing specific challenges and ensuring that students are continuing to learn. Barring such information, we’re only left with seeing what money was spent on but no way of knowing if $6 billion in additional funding improved student outcomes and helped our schools.