Amid concerns extending to a pair of overpopulated classrooms at Uhland Elementary, Hays CISD leaders Monday felt they had no choice but to green light a waiver to allow for it.
But some trustees feel approval of the class size waivers by a unanimous 6-0 Feb. 25 vote could have negative implications.
Concerned remarks were plentiful when the item was brought up at the Feb. 18 board workshop. The two classrooms are currently operating at a 23 to 1 student to teacher ratio.
Under the Texas Education Code, a district must submit a request for an exception in a kindergarten through 4th grade classroom that exceeds the state’s mandated 22 to 1 ratio. Trustees added that both classrooms are 4th grade bilingual classes at a low socioeconomic campus; other monolingual or English proficient classrooms are operating at a 16:1 ratio.
“I don’t want to cast stones or anything … but I think the administration should be more concerned about perceptions from the community,” said Trustee Michael Sanchez Feb. 18. “If we have a 16:1 ratio at monolingual and English proficient classrooms and a 23:1 in bilingual, there is a perception of inequality at these grade levels.”
To alleviate the classroom population sizes at the two classrooms, the district is looking to hire a paraprofessional to assist the teachers in the classroom rather than hiring a new teacher towards the end of the school year.
But the district still has not filled that vacancy. Linda Hall, director of Human Resources for the district, confirmed that the position should be filled in the next two weeks. Uhland Elementary principal Cynthia Vasquez has conducted interviews and should have a recommendation with the timeframe, Hall said.
“We found out Jan. 16 that we were at 23 students and the position was not posted until Feb 12,” said Trustee Esperanza Orosco. “I found that outrageous and I do hope we do a better job at being proactive in supporting our teachers, especially our teachers at our lower socioeconomic schools and bilingual students …”
Orosco said she “never” votes for class size waivers, but because of state law, had no choice this time around.
Tim Savoy, Hays CISD chief communications officer, said if the classrooms were operating at 23:1 in September, the district could hire another teacher and split the classroom. Trying to accomplish the same in the middle of the school year is tricky as students grow a bond with their educators.
“Our philosophy is to submit these waivers only when we absolutely have to, and when we do submit them, mitigate that by bringing aid to assist teachers,” Savoy said. “Again, it’s timing. This is a different story if it happened in September when we could hire an additional teacher.”
But in some ways, the district’s hands are tied, despite a majority of the board members reluctant to support the waiver. A waiver must be sent to the state for classrooms operating at overcapacity, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Looking to the future, the district officials said more work must be done to address classroom population density. During upcoming budget discussions, class size ratios will be a topic of much interest as the district is looking to minimize the number of waivers it sends to the state.
Despite opposing the waivers in principle, timing as not on the side of the trustees. According to the TEA, “a district seeking an exemption must notify the commissioner and apply for the exception no later than the later of the 30th day after the first school day the district exceeds the limit.”
Superintendent Eric Wright said the item was on the agenda because the waiver is the law. Wright said district officials have spoken with the principal and teachers at Uhland, all of whom support the addition of the paraprofessional to assist the classroom.
Additionally, the waiver was on the agenda because the campus does not have the extra classroom space to hire a teacher. Hiring a paraprofessional was the best option for the district at this time.
“I just want to be on record to say I would love to vote no as principle, but I understand that would put us out of compliance with state law, and that is not something I am comfortable with doing,” Trustee Vanessa Petrea said.