By Stuart J. Pearlman, TSB Staff
During the most recent McKinney ISD Board of trustees meeting on September 25 a key topic discussed was the status of the district’s adherence to Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines for class sizes and a vote regarding requests for waivers.
In accordance with those TEA guidelines, requests for waivers (exceptions) were required to be submitted this year by September 30. The Board voted 6-1 in favor of the requests, with trustee Amy Dankel casting the sole negative vote.
In an effort to help readers better understand the class size guidelines, waivers and the implications relevant to MISD students and families, TownSquareBuzz.com recently sat down with Geoff Sanderson, MISD Chief Accountability Officer.
TSB: What are the class size limits as required by the state of Texas and do they apply to all grades?
Sanderson: It is only a statutory requirement for grades Kindergarten through fourth grade to have limits on class sizes, which would be 22 students to every one teacher. Outside of that grade span there are no class size limits so they can be as large as districts need to have them.
Any time in K through 4, if you introduce another student and go to 23 or greater, you have to request permission from the state in order to have that size exceed the class size limits.
The class size limit is more geared toward recommended practice. They focus at the primary years on having a smaller class size, and 22 has pretty much been determined the magical number. Above 22 in a primary years setting, it becomes that much more challenging for teachers to be able to individualize instruction.
TSB: Does MISD accept the TEA class size limits or has it set a stricter policy?
Sanderson: Ideally we would maintain a ratio of no more than 22 to 1, especially on our Title schools. There we try to adhere to a stricter standard of 18 to 1, because of the needs of those students and being able to target interventions and academic support.
Historically the state gave us pretty tight parameters in that you couldn’t go more than 22 kids in a K-4 setting unless you apply for a waiver. Even in that instance you could not exceed 24 students in a given class.
They have since lifted the 24 as a maximum, and so now you can conceivably fill a class as large as the local organization deems appropriate or has agreed upon. In MISD, I think once we get to 24 we would implement our overflow process, which would look to having students possibly not attend their home campus. Our initial goal though is to keep kids at their home location.
TSB: What are some key reasons why a waiver would be requested?
Sanderson: Financially, it is not feasible for us to provide teachers for very small class sizes.
We also have to look at it from the standpoint that not every campus has the same offerings when we start getting into special programs. Depending on how specialized that program is, it may not be offered at every campus. There might be a need for us to try to keep a child at that same campus with that specialized instruction.
More often what we encounter are students who are receiving bi-lingual education. That service resides on six out of seven of our Title schools. For students that need that, if they are already at a campus that provides that service, ideally we would be able to keep them at that campus rather than trying to send them to one of those other satellite schools that offers that instruction.
Our greatest goal is to minimize or create the least amount of disruption that we can to students.
TSB: What was the deadline for Waiver requests this school year and how many waivers did MISD request?
Sanderson: We had 30 days from the first day of school (August 27) in which we have to notify TEA of our request for class size waiver for any of those K-4 classes that exceed the 22-student threshold.
MISD applied for waivers for 10 classes in the district.
TSB: Are districts “rubber-stamped” by TEA when requesting a waiver?
Sanderson: It seemed that way this year. TEA automated the process. It was an online submission process and our Superintendent received an email confirmation as well as approval that same day.
TSB: Theoretically MISD will grow next year. Given what you know right now, short of an increase in budget, will that put further pressure on your class size limits and how does the district deal with that?
Sanderson: Yes, the only way it would not is if we made cuts elsewhere in order to increase our teacher workforce.
From a budgetary standpoint, this year was hard, next year is going to be harder to be able to balance it effectively. We didn’t balance it this year, because we had to tap into our reserve funds in order to offset the expenditures versus our anticipated revenue. Next year we are anticipating having to do that same exercise even more so. And you can only do that for so long before you zero out your fund balance.
TSB: Has there been any suggestion that the TEA will raise the class limits?
Sanderson: I don’t know if they will or not because right now that does not technically constrict us due to the ability to get waivers.
For more information on class size limits and waivers visit the Texas Education Agency website at www.tea.state.tx.us/.