Controversial Ohio ruling impacts minimum staffing

Law urges districts to focus on psychologists, computer teachers, gifted education specialists and ESL teachers
By: | Issue: June, 2015
May 21, 2015

An Ohio law requiring certain ratios of art teachers, nurses, librarians and other staff was struck down by the state board of education in April.

The state now joins most others nationwide that allow local administrators to control personnel decisions, and superintendents are facing pressure to keep these positions amid budget cuts.

The so-called “5 of 8” rule in Ohio, which was created in 1983, stated that districts had to fill five of the following eight positions for every 1,000 students: art, music and physical education teachers, school nurse, guidance counselor, librarian, social worker and visiting teacher.

“The committee recognized that times have changed, and there are many more positions needed to run a school that should be considered in these education service personnel decisions,” says Ron Rudduck, a member of the Ohio Board of Education who chaired the committee that reviewed the rule.

The revised law stresses the importance of the positions in question, but encourages districts to staff some 15 other positions such as psychologists, computer teachers, gifted education specialists and ESL teachers.

Those who supported changing the rule cited its age. For example, visiting teachers who tutored pregnant students at home have not been used in years. Many also say local districts should have the flexibility to hire staff as needed. For example, districts may partner with a local hospital or department of public health to provide services in schools, rather than having to hire a full-time nurse.

The Ohio law had no enforcement policy in place, so it’s probable that many superintendents were not aware of it but were following it anyway, Rudduck says.

Many superintendents reported the change will not impact their staffing decisions, says Kirk Hamilton, executive director of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators. “School districts highly value art and physical education and medical services,” he says. “When we make a value judgment and say these eight are more important than others, that’s just a judgment, too.”

Most states nationwide leave such staffing decisions to local school boards, says Julie Rowland, a researcher at the Education Commission of the States. National organizations for each group do offer ratio recommendations, but they are not something districts are obligated to follow.

At least three statesÑArkansas, Georgia and OregonÑhave required school nurse ratios. Iowa and Kentucky are the only two that require districts to have librarians. And Georgia is the only state to mandate a student-school counselor ratio.