Editor's update: On Aug. 22, Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox shared at the Board of Education's Committee of the Whole meeting that "448 individuals are in the 'onboarding process,' 179 candidates have offers, and 63 offers will be made in the next 24 hours. Cox says in her tenure in the district they have always been hiring through the start of school for students." If all of those hires work out, there will be 200 vacancies remaining.
Children are scheduled to return to Minneapolis Public Schools buildings on September 5, but some of their classrooms still don’t have a teacher. According to online job postings for Minneapolis Public Schools, as of August 15, there are 42 openings for elementary classroom teachers, including six kindergarten teachers.
The elementary school vacancies are a fraction of the 253 vacancies for licensed teachers. In addition, the district also has 327 vacancies for educational support professionals.
According to Minneapolis Schools Voices’ own data collection, MPS is short 580 education staff two weeks before the beginning of the school year.
Last August, Southwest Voices conducted a similar analysis of online job listings, collecting data on August 12, 2022. That analysis showed the district had 150 openings for classroom teachers and 66 openings for educational support professionals, totaling 216 vacancies.
Schools that have the most job vacancies are located in the northern half of the district or are the home of citywide programs.
Open positions for teachers and paraprofessionals are disproportionately located in schools that are part of citywide programs. These citywide schools serve 24% of district students, but 40% of teacher vacancies are in these schools. For our analysis, citywide programs are schools that serve district students, regardless of home address. These are primarily magnet schools, but include other citywide programs, like Anishinabe Academy, Heritage Academy and Longfellow High School.
About three of every four students enrolled in a citywide program qualify for free and reduced price meals, compared to the district as a whole where 56% of students qualify. In 2022-23, nearly 80% of students enrolled in citywide programs were students of color compared to 60% of students districtwide.
There is a disproportionate number of vacancies in schools located in the attendance zones for Henry High School and Edison High School. Minneapolis Public Schools groups elementary, middle, and high schools by attendance zones. The zones are named after the high school the preceding schools are in.
Schools in the attendance zone for Henry High School enroll about 9% of the district’s students, but have nearly 15% of the open teacher positions. Comparatively, the Washburn High School zone has 16% of the district’s students and 6% of the teacher vacancies. In the Henry attendance zone, about 83% of students qualify for free and reduced price meals, and last year, 89% of students enrolled in the Henry attendance zone were students of color. In the Washburn zone, 32% of students qualified for free and reduced price lunch and 40% of students enrolled were students of color.
There is an increase in vacancies for elementary classroom teacher positions, compared to last year. Those positions are typically easier to fill.
There are currently 42 elementary classroom vacancies listed online, compared to 12 elementary classroom vacancies last year at about this time.. These positions are for specific grade level openings, such as a kindergarten teacher, and not for a specialist, like a music teacher.
In middle and high school, where an open position for a math teacher, for example, might impact one class in the daily schedule of a student, in elementary grades, students typically stay with their same classroom teacher for the entire school day. A middle or high school might be able to pull in other licensed staff members to cover a portion of the classes for a vacant position. Or, the school might choose to combine classes leading to a larger class size. This sort of arrangement is much more challenging for elementary schools.
The geographic pattern of the elementary classroom teacher vacancies is similar to the overall vacancies for teachers. About 40% of all elementary classroom teacher vacancies are located in the district’s magnet schools and other citywide programs. The attendance zone for Southwest High School had no elementary classroom teacher vacancies at the time the data was collected. Although 16% of the district’s students attend schools in the Washburn area, only 2% of elementary classroom vacancies are in the schools in this attendance area.
English as a Second Language Positions Remain Unfilled
The district budgeted for 21 additional positions to support students who are learning English this school year. However, 15 of those positions remain unfilled. The additional positions were intended to support a larger than expected increase in new students with limited English proficiency who enrolled in the district last school year.
The unfilled ESL positions are at: Andersen Middle School, Anishinabe Academy, Anwatin Middle Schools, Emerson, Las Estrellas, Ella Baker, Folwell, Heritage Academy, Jenny Lind, Olson Middle School, Pratt and South High School.
One in five schools still has a vacancy for a licensed librarian. Every student was supposed to have access to a staffed school library this year.
The district budgeted $4 million to add a halftime librarian to each school site this school year. Fifteen of those seventy positions are still vacant. As with other vacancies, the unfilled librarian positions are primarily located in schools in the northern half of the district, and in citywide programs. There are no open librarian positions in the schools that pathway to Washburn or Southwest High School.
The unfilled halftime librarian positions are at Andersen Middle School, Bancroft, Bethune, Howe, Jenny Lind, Las Estrellas, Longfellow High School, Loring, MPS Online K-5, Nellie Stone Johnson, Sanford Middle School, Waite Park and Webster.
A large number of special education teacher and paraprofessional positions remain unfilled.
Within Minneapolis Public Schools, students who qualify for special education services are particularly impacted by vacancies. Just under one fifth of district students qualify for special education services. There are currently 58 vacancies for special education teachers and 105 vacancies for special education assistants across the district. Like other openings, these open positions are disproportionately located in the attendance zones for schools serving predominantly students of color and students who qualify for free and reduced price meals.
The Henry attendance zone includes about 9% of the students enrolled in the district. However, that zone has 18% of the special education assistants vacancies and 19% of special education teachers vacancies.
Students who qualify for special education services are not evenly distributed across attendance zones. At schools along the district’s southern border around 10% of enrolled students qualify for special education. In the northern half of the district, about 20% of enrolled students qualify for special education services. This may account for some of the disproportionate share of special education openings in schools that pathway to Henry and Edison.
Fourteen percent of intervention teacher positions and nearly two thirds of intervention associate educator positions remain unfilled.
As part of the district budget for the 2023-24 school year, the district targeted $30 million in federal pandemic aid earmarked for learning loss into a program it calls Intervention Triads. The intention was to target additional teachers and non-licensed associate educator staffing in schools where students are the furthest behind grade level in reading and math. At the time, Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox called the triad plan a “bold response” to “horrific learning loss.”
Using the district’s school budget allocations, Minneapolis Schools Voices determined how many intervention triads were allocated to schools in each attendance zone in the district. Then, based on the online vacancies, we calculated the vacancy rate for the intervention positions within each attendance zone.
Intervention Triad Positions by Attendance Zone, Budgeted, Unfilled and Vacancy Rate
Four of every five associate educator intervention positions budgeted for the district’s citywide schools are currently vacant. Overall, 14% of the intervention teacher positions are vacant, and nearly 64% of the associate educator intervention positions are vacant. The vacancies follow the same geographic pattern as other open positions, with vacancies concentrated in schools that draw students from citywide.
The Washburn attendance area has the lowest vacancy rate for associate educator interventionists, with 42% of positions still open. Roosevelt is the only other attendance area where the vacancy rate for associate educator interventionist positions is below 50%.
When the plan for the intervention triads was announced last February, several district principals pushed back on the plan. Some principals believed the intervention positions would be more attractive to current classroom teachers, who would switch out of their classroom positions and into intervention positions. The principals anticipated this would lead to unstaffed classrooms, particularly in schools that serve a higher proportion of students of color and students from lower-income households.
Senior Human Resources Officer Candra Bennett told the school board on August 8 that the district has the data to determine whether district employees moved into the new intervention positions, but the district had not completed that analysis as of the meeting time. The publicly available data is not adequate for answering this question.
The district must spend its remaining federal pandemic aid by September 30, 2024, and the $30 million earmarked for learning loss must “supplement not supplant” existing district expenditures. The “supplement not supplant” requirement means the district cannot use these funds for ongoing operations, like increasing employee pay. The district has used nearly all of its other ESSER funds to maintain staffing despite enrollment declines, and to pay for raises and bonuses as part of the collective bargaining agreements that settled the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals strike in March 2022.
As of now, district leadership has not shared a plan for how it will use any funds allocated to the intervention triad positions that go unspent before the deadline. Last spring, Sarah Hunter, executive director of Strategic Initiatives, told principals the district would “pivot” to online high dosage tutoring in the fall if positions remained vacant.
The district hired two firms in the winter of 2023 to provide online tutoring to students. In an update on that program in May, Aimee Fearing, Senior Academic Officer, said 589 students had participated, at a cost of $400,000. Assessments from the vendors showed improvement for students who participated regularly, but the district had not yet evaluated the program using its own assessments. Some students who had been assigned to the online tutoring did not attend school often enough to meet the guideline for “high-dosage” tutoring, which is 20-30 minutes, 3 days per week.
If the district switches to online interventions in schools with vacancies, students in the district’s schools that serve the lowest proportion of students from lower income households would be more likely to have in-person intervention teachers and associate educators, while the online services would be provided in schools serving a majority of students of color and students from lower income households.
National staffing trends mirror what is happening at Minneapolis Public Schools
The staffing challenges faced by MPS mirror national trends, where a combination of factors have increased vacancies in public schools. The unemployment rate remains low, and the job market is strong, leaving districts to compete for workers with other employers. Schools have also been adding staff with federal pandemic aid, otherwise known as ESSER funds.
The current vacancies are concentrated in attendance areas that serve a larger proportion of students who qualify for free and reduced price meals, and students of color. This pattern of vacancies is common nationwide, and pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfilled positions in MPS are also more common in special education, math and science courses, which also mirrors national trends in the positions most challenging for schools to fill.
National research shows that schools have difficulty filling openings as the start of schools approaches. And, research shows that students who start the school year without a permanent teacher, even if the vacancy is eventually filled, learn less than their peers who have a permanent teacher from the beginning of the school year.
In addition to the impact of vacancies on students, unfilled positions can cause additional strain on the other teachers in the school. A common strategy is to ask, or even require, teachers to cover classes during their prep time, combine classes, or cancel courses. Southwest Voices documented the impact of unfilled positions at Henry High School last October.
The unfilled positions come as the district continues its work to help students recover academically and socially from the COVID-19 pandemic. The district is attempting to add 400 positions this school year for interventionists, 133 licensed teachers and 266 non licensed associate educators, using federal pandemic aid earmarked for learning loss, as part of its academic recovery plan. Interim Superintendent Rochelle Cox developed the plan last February after winter assessments showed many students had not recovered academically from pandemic declines, and some students were falling further behind.
At the time the intervention plan was announced, several Minneapolis principals told district leaders they were concerned that hiring so many additional staff would lead to vacancies in classroom teacher positions. The principals were particularly concerned about schools that serve high proportions of students from lower income households, and higher proportions of students of color, because these schools have historically had difficulty hiring and retaining staff.
Accessing the Minneapolis Public Schools Vacancy Data
On August 15, Minneapolis Schools Voices downloaded all of the jobs listed on the district’s online listings. This is not a perfect measure of vacancies in the district, because there may be a gap in time between when someone is hired and when the online vacancy is removed. In addition, some job listings are for “candidate pools” and those listings do not specify the exact number of vacancies or location of the positions.
Despite the limitations, this is a better indicator of vacancies within Minneapolis Public Schools than any other publicly available source we know about. Online vacancy data has been used by education researchers and teachers unions as a way to measure job vacancies in school districts. Minneapolis Schools Voices reached out to the district to ask for job vacancy data, and, as of the time of publication, the district has not provided that information to us.
Board members have also asked for more specific data about job vacancies from district leadership. At the August 8 board meeting, Shawn Harris-Berry, senior officer of Schools, and Candra Bennett, senior Human Resources officer, both told board members they would be able to provide more specific data in a later update to the board.