By Andy Sevilla
In an about face, Hays CISD will soon hire a new fourth grade teacher to help alleviate overcrowded classrooms at Elm Grove Elementary despite the administration’s resistance last week.
With the new hire, Hays CISD will request 13 classroom waivers from the state this year, as opposed to the 18 waivers that would have been required if all five fourth grade classrooms at Elm Grove remained with more than 22 students each.
State guidelines mandate 22 students per one teacher in the classroom for kindergarten throughout fourth grade. If classrooms surpass those limits, local school districts must request waivers from the state within 30 days of exceeding the mandated ratio, per state rules.
At the school board’s Sept. 15 meeting, Trustee Meredith Keller said that given the overcrowding, it seemed reasonable for the district to hire a third and a fourth grade teacher for Elm Grove.
On Sept. 15, four of the five third grade classes at Elm Grove exceeded the 22 to 1 ratio, as did four of the five fourth grade classes.
Dr. Kim Pool, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, however, cautioned at the Sept. 15 meeting against hiring a new teacher before established thresholds were reached.
The district’s “hard cap” is 24 students per classroom. A new teacher would be hired when all classrooms in a given school grade are at 24 students and an additional student in that grade registers for class.
“I would hate to do that (hire a new teacher) before that happened, because I think there are several cases where we could be adding a teacher arbitrarily without hitting that threshold that we already established,” Pool said at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting.
Now, the district will move forward with a new hire for Elm Grove’s fourth grade.
“I appreciate you guys (staff) coming back and bringing us the suggestion of adding another (teacher) for fourth grade,” School Board Vice President Holly Raymond said at the Sept. 22 meeting. “… More than anything I appreciate the fact that you heard us. You heard the concerns and where that was.”
For Keller, however, she questioned why the district staff didn’t hire a new fourth grade teacher at the start of school. She said the classroom numbers “were quite similar,” perhaps “pretty much the same” on the Friday before school began to now.
“I can’t recall what the numbers were,” Pool said at the Sept. 22 meeting. “But when we established this threshold, when every class is at the cap of 24 (students), as soon as the 25th student to one classroom registered, we would add the additional teacher.”
And while one classroom at Elm Grove remained with only 22 students, Pool said when an additional student registered, that student was placed into a GT cluster classroom, making them the 25th student. All the while one classroom remained below the 24 student hard cap, thereby not exceeding the established threshold.
Moving forward, Trustee Sandra Bryant said she would like the district to be proactive, and not reactive, especially at Elm Grove where more growth is expected, as many subdivisions in the school’s attendance zone have not yet been built out.
“I know that even after we take action this evening that we’ll continue to work to make sure we keep our class sizes as manageable as possible for our kids,” School Board President Robert Limon said at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The school board approved requesting 13 classroom waivers in a 5-2 vote. Keller and Bryant voted against the waivers.
Keller told the Hays Free Press she and Bryant have been proponents for the state-mandated 22 to 1 ratio, and wanted the district’s budget this year to accommodate that level of staffing.
“I do want a budget for it (22:1 ratio) to start out,” Keller said. “I don’t want to have 25 kids in the class at that point. Perhaps next year on the budget we’re going to be able to pay for the 22 to 1 (ratio). I know we did that for kindergarten and first (grade) this year.”
Tim Savoy, school district spokesperson, said the new teacher could be hired now and staff would then take a budget amendment to the board in October. The average cost for a teacher’s salary and benefits runs about $55,000.