Driven by Data

The Economics of Scheduling Decisions

We often begin our school budget training for charter applicants by asking the group to identify the major levers that impact total teacher salary expenses. Almost without fail, the two answers given are 1) teacher salary levels and 2) average class size. What most people overlook is that there is a third, equally important lever: 3) schedule configuration.

For high schools, in particular, decisions about how many periods to have in a school day and how to staff and structure them can have a material financial impact through teacher expense.

Let’s unpack the logic with a simplified example. Imagine a high school that serves 600 students. The school has:

  • Seven-period schedule
  • Teachers teaching five classes per day
  • Average class size of 20 students. 

To staff its classrooms, the school needs to have enough teachers to cover 210 sections each day (600 students / 20 students per classroom * 7 periods).  With teachers teaching five classes a day, the school in this example needs 42 classroom teachers (210 sections / 5 classes per day).


Now imagine the same 600 student school switches to a block schedule with an A/B rotation. The school now has:

  • Four-period schedule with longer period blocks
  • Teachers teaching three classes per day
  • Average class size of 20 students

To staff its classrooms, the school needs to have enough teachers to cover 120 sections each day (600 students / 20 students per classroom * 4 periods). With teachers teaching three classes a day, the school in this example needs only 40 classroom teachers (120 sections / 3 classes per day). 


Assuming $60k/year in average salary, that two-person staffing change could mean $120K in funds (before even considering taxes and benefits) that could be available for other uses in the school’s budget (e.g., stipends for teachers taking on extra duties, technology, field trips and so on).

Mathematically, what’s driving the savings in our example is that you are changing the percent of the day that teachers are spending in front of students. In a seven-period schedule, they are teaching 71% (five of seven periods) of the day while in the block schedule they are teaching 75% (three of four periods) of the day. The impact can be even more pronounced with different schedule configuration changes.

There are many considerations involved in switching a school’s schedule configuration, and we are not arguing that financial impact should be the driving factor. However, the financial impacts can be material and are often overlooked. Schools should at least be aware of the tradeoffs when weighing changes in schedule design.

 

[This post contributed by Bryan Patten, Managing Director]