SOME GOOD NEWS TEMPERED WITH SOME UNCERTAINTY

4/30/19

by Scott Kee

GOOD NEWS

1.Comparing Notes.  As I have pointed out in prior blogs, the primary disconnect between TSD and TEA appears to be an inability to agree on some basic numbers(like actual revenue and expenses).  At the most recent meeting, Superintendent John Bash indicated that he and Jim Brittain met with WEA/TEA Leadership to compare notes.  John indicates they found some common ground.  As you might imagine, there were some clear points of disagreement.   TEA apparently provided some data, and TSD has promised to “answer” questions posed by TEA.  In my view, this is real progress.  

2.  Extension of deadline to notify staff of layoffs.  The TEA/TSD contract requires TSD to notify teachers by May 15, 2019 if they will not be offered employment during the 2019-20 school year.  TSD cannot accurately project the depth of cuts needed until digesting the state budget(which was passed on April 28th).  That process will likely take weeks.  TSD and TEA believe it would be detrimental to relations to provide notices to staff prior to actually determining whether the cuts will need to be made. Accordingly, TSD has asked TEA if it would agree to amend the agreement so that the layoff notices need not be provided until mid-June.  John said he received verbal interest from Tim Voie(TEA President).   TEA indicates it will get back to TSD with a formal answer.

3.  TSD Administrative work on the budget.   Having sat down on multiple occasions with John and Jim, it is clear to me that they are pulling out all the stops and exploring every avenue to try and minimize the effect of the cuts that will be made.  John has indicated multiple times that Jim has “scrubbed” the non-staff portions of the budget to the fullest extent possible.  Having walked through some of those cuts with Jim, I tend to believe there is virtually no fat left to cut when it comes to non-staff items.  In fact, coming from the private sector, I might argue that some of the non-staff cuts go too deep and am a little puzzled at the keep staff at all costs mentality.  

4. TSD agreed to provide a list of specific cuts to the Board.  Kim Reykdal once again asked John to provide a list of the non-staff cuts that will be proposed as a result of Jim’s “scrubbing” of the budget.  I am hopeful that list will provided in advance of the next meeting and the Board members work to get up to speed so that they can voice priorities of their constituents.  Further, I still believe the community should be involved in the process, and help determine the priorities, and preferences, with respect to cuts that have to be made.  

CONCERNS

1.TSD Administration(mainly Jim and John) are the ones who are deciding what will be cut.  Budgets reflect priorities.   Jim and John have priorities that may, or may not, be consistent with the priorities of the community and the Board.  I am unaware of any information provided to the community regarding proposed cuts.  Further, it appears the Board is also in the dark for the most part. 

John is good at what he does, and  touched on the ramifications of making information regarding cuts public. Lots of people will be upset, goodwill may be lost, and “drama” will occur. 

Of course, the downside of not publicizing the information is these decisions will likely need to be made very quickly, and there is no way the community, or the TSD Board, will be able to really understand the quantity and impact of specific line items that are cut.  Its pretty complicated, and I have found requires and extensive amount of work, to simply understand how to compare the F195/196 budget documents.  

TSD appears to have made the calculated determination that providing the information at present is not necessary, and the “drama” resulting from doing so outweighs the benefit of having  an informed Board and community.  I appreciate it is a tough call and, while I disagree, understand the rationale behind the decision.  

Making cuts requires comparisons.  What do I like more?  What do we need(subjective)?  This is hard to do in a vacuum, and very hard to do without understanding the entire budget.  The stakeholders need to be given a set of options, and then be allowed to go through those options, and work together to prioritize cuts.  In my view, TSD Admin making those calls is not the optimal route.  

As a side note, I have proposed on a number of occasions that a budget committee be formed to engage in a deliberate process.  I know it works because I just watched the boundary committee do great work, which involved (sometimes contentious) debate and an open and candid expression of opinions and priorities.  I am disappointed TSD has not engaged in a similar process surrounding the budget discussions.   

2.  Reluctance to cut any staff.  TSD’s insistence that everything else be cut to the bone before consideration of any staff cuts seems impractical.  Staff is the most important resource in the educational system.  However, personally, I could envision a scenario where, when faced with two undesirable options, I would choose to cut staff instead of necessary programs, materials, training, resources, etc. I also understand that the community, and the Board, may want to take a “cuts to staff only as a last resort” tactic.  However, I do not believe TSD, and specifically Jim and John, can reach that conclusion as the data is incomplete without input from the Board and community regarding specific cuts.      

The community is clearly interested.  A few months ago word got out that TSD was considering having Technology and Library Specialists reassigned to classroom teachers.  The result was a standing room only Board meeting with a dozen people voicing their opinions about what he/she thought should be a priority.  I would encourage the TSD Board to come up with a plan where priorities can actually be discussed in a public forum.    

3.  The Board’s lack of involvement in the budget process.  Based upon the questions asked at Board meetings, it is clear to me that the Board members do not, at present, understand the specific cuts Jim and John have in mind. Up until the last meeting, the Board had not demanded any real details.  As noted above, Kim Reykdal did ask, and John agreed to provide, a list of the items Jim has scrubbed.  Once again, this appears to have already been decided. I do not believe any of the Board members substantively assisted in the scrubbing process.  What does the Board want, or not want to scrub? I am hopeful they will educate themselves, and seek input from the community well in advance of any type of vote is taken.  


I would think the Budget is the most pressing issue facing TSD at present.  The breakdown in relationships last summer(which effect still lingers) was the direct result of TEA, TSD Admin, the TSD Board and the community not having the same understanding of basic principles regarding the budget.  TEA and TSD could not even agree on some simple items like income and expenses.    

The Board members spend a lot of time in the schools, and are involved in various activities within the school district.  They visit schools, talk with people, promote TSD in various ways and create a lot of goodwill in the community.  That being said, over the next few months, I would submit the most impactful decisions, and votes, to be considered by the Board will surround the budgeting issues.  I believe the Board members should spend the bulk of their time delving deeply into the budget, meeting with TEA and/or the community, jointly discussing(as a group) priorities with Jim and John and making sure that they have the time to carefully consider the difficult decisions on the horizon.   

As always, we welcome comments, questions or suggestions.   scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Response to Superintendent Comments About Transfer Students

4/19/19

by Scott Kee

At the March 14, 2019 TSD Board meeting, I spoke about the budgeting impact of transfer students.  A couple blogs on the topic that contain a few of the points I made can be found here and here.         

At the March 28, 2019 meeting, Superintendent John Bash “addressed” some of my comments.  I was puzzled by John’s comments and am frustrated by TSD’s refusal to actually acknowledge basic facts.  Further, the Board members seem reluctant to follow up with questions.  As the comments made by John are now part of the School Board meeting minutes, and public record, I felt compelled to point out the inaccuracies/incompleteness of the comments.   

In this blog, the headline is my comment with which John took issue.   The inserted graphic contains John’s comments.   I stand by each of the comments and offer further explanation.

1.    BRINGING IN MORE STUDENTS INCREASES THE DEFICIT(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting). 

The  Superintendent’s assessment that TSD receives about $1.5 million based upon the IDT students is accurate, but only a partial truth.  In reality, educating those students costs far more than the $1.5 million received, thus resulting in a greater deficit.   

As has been routinely voiced by TSD, the state is not providing enough money.  Given the funding model, it actually costs more to educate students than the state provides in funding, which was also outlined in a prior blog.    If you just take the number of students, and divide it by the total budget, TSD budgets about $12,500 per student, while the state is providing about $8500 per student.  I appreciate this analysis is much too simple to be precisely accurate, and the actual cost to educate each student is more likely in the $10,000-$11,000 range after factoring in some other variables.  However, the cost is still significantly more money than TSD is receiving on a per student basis.  Despite that fact, TSD erroneously continues to contend accepting IDT students is a financially prudent decision.  Based on TSD’s own assertions that they do not receive enough money from the state to provide basic education for TSD students, and assuming appropriate staffing levels, the more students TSD has, the greater the deficit. 

TSD has traditionally supplemented the budget with local levy money–which remains constant regardless of the number of students.  TSD does not collect any more local levy money when it accepts IDT students.  In fact, accepting those students results in the local levy money being spread thinner, leaving fewer resources for the resident students.    

I appreciate TSD accepts IDT students for non-financial reasons, which may be a noble course.  However, TSD should stop trying to justify its policy with the erroneous argument that accepting IDT students has a positive impact on the budget.      

The one caveat here is that I am presuming TSD will staff appropriately, and not just accept IDT students so they can be placed into already overcrowded classrooms. I would concede that accepting IDT students is a good financial move if TSD insists on maintaining the same amount staff, independent of enrollment–which in my opinion, seems illogical. 

I appreciate TSD is reluctant to staff down.  However, reducing the number of IDT students, and cutting expenses back to meet actual income, appears to be exactly what TSD needs to do from a budgetary perspective. 

2.    CLASS SIZES ARE BEING INFLATED(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting, although I think I said “increased” not inflated).

I am confused by this statement, which appears to contend that class sizes remain constant even with the addition of IDT students.  I really wish there was the opportunity for a back and forth discussion during the Board meetings, or that the Board members would conduct further inquiry when statements like this are made.  

TSD accurately contends managing class sizes is an imperfect science to a significant degree.  TSD must accept all resident students.  However,  TSD controls how many IDT students it accepts.  If TSD opted to do so, TSD could conduct a pretty precise count of resident students, which is really not accurate until early to mid-summer, and then opt to decide how many IDT students are accepted.  Instead, TSD’s practice is to make IDT determinations first, and then adjust to the resident student enrollment. 

In any event, class sizes increase with IDT students.  Some schools, THS in particular, have not managed this well. This has resulted in significant overcrowding in some grades,  for example, Seniors and Freshman at THS and Sophomores at BHHS have many core classes above impact numbers.  See Tami’s class size blog for details.  

The result is undeniable.  Some schools, especially THS, elect to accept too many IDT students which results is classrooms well beyond capacity.  I am disappointed the Board members have not pressed the Superintendent, or the principals, for details regarding why schools, especially THS, consistently accept IDT students at a rate far greater than any other school in the County, resulting in consistently overcrowded classes.  

3.    WHY ARE YOU ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS SO EARLY(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

My contention was that TSD should wait, likely until at least June, to accept IDT students, and, pursuant to its own policy, should use capacity as the determining factor.   

TSD’s own 3141P policy dictates space is the primary consideration in determining whether or not to accept IDT students.   

TSD’s response has been that IDT students families need to plan.  I appreciate advance planning is desired.  However, in my view, providing additional planning time to IDT families at the expense of providing the best educational environment for residents students, runs contrary to where TSD should keep its focus.  Affording planning time to IDT families has resulted in resident students routinely being in overcrowded classes, and, in some instances, not having desks to sit in and/or commuting to other schools to find available space in the desired classes.  TSD may contend this was caused by unexpected summer enrollment.  Not to pick on THS too much, but the current Freshman class is a prime example. 

There are 285 students enrolled in Freshman Health, a class every Freshman is required to take.   TSD sets the maximum enrollment in Freshman Health at 27 students per class.  There are 243 available spots(9 classes) in Freshman Health, but THS enrolled 285 students in those 9 classes.  Every Health call is at or over impact.  I am confident that TSD accepted more than 42 Freshman IDT students(that is  about 14% and about 16% of students at TSD are IDT students).  Why wouldn’t TSD wait to see how many resident students will be enrolled in Freshman Health, leaving a reasonable buffer for move ins(maybe a dozen or so spots), before it even considers allow IDT students to enroll?  TSD’s response was that “IDT families need time to plan.” 

Once again, nobody is saying we should not accept IDT students.  However, with a few limited exceptions, and consistent with TSD’s own policy, they should only be accepted if there is space.  285 students filling 243 spots is indicative of TSD not having enough space.    An IDT family’s need to plan should be secondary to forcing resident students into overcrowded classrooms. 

4.   OUT OF DISTRICT FAMILIES ARE NOT PAYING LEVY DOLLARS(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

TSD concedes it receives no local levy money as a result of accepting IDT students, and instead tries to minimize the effect. 

TSD receives around $8 million a year in levy funds.  That is about 10% of the budget, and a pretty large sum.  That number does not increase or decrease with enrollment.    

The  reference to Running Start is also illogical as TSD still receives the same amount of levy money, regardless of how many students are enrolled in Running Start.  TSD does lose out on state funding as a result of running start students.  Arguing that the Running Start program and local levy funds are unrelated and do not affect each other is inaccurate.  

TSD ignores the fact that accepting IDT student actually dilutes the impact of the levy money is.  TSD has roughly $8 million to spread around whether it has 4000 students or 7000 students.  In fact, I would make the contention that, if staffed appropriately(enough teachers to educate full, but not overcrowded, classrooms) the levy money might just fill the current deficit in the state funding model.  The levy money goes farther with fewer students–whether IDT or resident.  The difference is that TSD must educate resident students, and chooses to accept IDT students at a far greater pace than any other district in the county.   

5.    SEVERAL K-5 CLASSES ARE AT OR ABOVE IMPACT(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

“Very few” is subjective.  However, based upon the most recent public records request, 21% of the K-5 classes in TSD are at, or over, impact numbers.  I would contend 21% is a significant amount.  Of that 21% there are 5 of the 47 classes with 3 or more students over impact.  I am not sure why this he considers this not significant, because the TEA contract, Article 37.D.2, specifically states once the class is over impact a paraprofessional will be added, and the teacher can elect to take impact pay in lieu of having a paraprofessional.  No amount over impact is mentioned and therefore, it is solely up to the teacher to elect which option they prefer, regardless of how many students over impact are enrolled.  Controlling enrollment is different at the elementary school level as the number of students for each grade is less than at the high school level.  Most elementary schools have 3-4 classes at each grade level(70-100 kids), while high school enrollment per grade is in the 200-280 student range.  Getting 3-4 move ins over a summer could easily result in a class or two being at impact at the elementary school level.  The number of students at the high school level is a little different and there is more wiggle room.  This potential for students moving in over the summer is a great example of why we should wait to approve the ITD students until later in the year, minimizing the likelihood of classrooms over impact.

The point being, I would take issue with any contention that “very few” K-5 classes are more than the current contract size.  

6.  TSD SHOULD RECONSIDER THE TRANSFER POLICY(Scott’s statement at 3/14/2018 meeting).

TSD RESPONSE

I agree it would be unfair, and unwise, to not give proper notice of a policy change.  However, TSD could follow its current policy.  I would suggest TSD should follow procedures consistent with its own policy, something that is not currently occurring. 

THS and BHHS commenced accepting applications on January 22, 2019.   TSD’s policy is that IDT applicants will be notified within 45 days of submitting an application. 

Applications submitted by the end of January, 2019 would have required a response by March 15, 2019.  Notably, North Thurston School District did not even start accepting applications for IDT students until March 4, 2019.  I spent a while on the Olympia School District site and could not find the Transfer request form or date which applications are accepted.  

Regardless, 3141P requires TSD to publish a list of available spots on its website.   The directive is to ensure ample space for resident students.  As noted above, TSD has not ensured ample space for resident students.  Notably, as of the writing of this blog, TSD has yet to publish a list of available spots for the middle and high schools.  Accordingly, TSD appears to be making IDT determinations without the publication of the requisite notice.      

In lieu of publishing any notice, TSD recently put a blanket statement on its website regarding transfers: 

apture

TSD changing its policy mid year would not be appropriate.  On the other hand, TSD not following its own policy, especially when the result is overcrowded classrooms, is also not appropriate.  

TSD should hold off on admitting IDT students until such time as it can assure resident students that there will be sufficient space in classrooms.  If TSD continues with current practices, TSD would need to add more teachers and classes in several of the grades where overcrowding is evident.  This would increase the expenses at a rate higher than the increase in funds from the state (by TSD’s own claims of inadequate funding).  This would then require more cuts to other areas, which in my opinion is not in the best interest of TSD students.  

CONCLUSION


I am certainly not calling for TSD to stop accepting any IDT students.  TSD is a great place to attend school, and TSD should welcome IDT students provided doing so does not negatively impact the experience of TSD’s resident students, to which TSD owes a primary obligation.  

TSD accepts transfer students at a much higher rate than its peers.  The number of IDT students coming into TSD negatively impacts the budget and results in overcrowded classrooms.  TSD should start following its own policy, accepting IDT students only if space is available and doing so does not negatively impact the budget.   

As always, we welcome comments, suggestions or guest blogs.  scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

High School Class Size Investigated 2018/19.

How is TSD doing on class size at the High School level? 

A previous blog discussed the class size in TSD elementary schools. For that information click here.  Unlike class size studies for elementary schools, there isn’t really much out there discussing recommended class sizes for a high school class.  This blog mainly addresses the seats available in the classroom(likely around 25-35) and the stated threshold capacity.  Some classes are more intensive, and take more time outside of the classroom, than other classes.  For instance a PE class is less likely than an English class to add a significant amount of time to a teacher with added students.  With not much outside TSD available, the contract between TEA and TSD is used as the baseline for class size in this discussion.

Article 37.E.5 of the TEA contracts states as follows:

“Secondary Class Size and Targeted Average.
 The employee workload in secondary classrooms (except band, choir, orchestra, and PE) shall average no more than 27 students per period, with a class size of 30 for impact. These calculations shall exclude student assistants or peer tutors. If an individual class exceeds the impact level (30), overload compensation will apply. If the overall targeted average of 27 is exceeded, overload compensation will apply. Employees will only receive overload compensation for one of the two provisions, whichever provides the greater compensation.”

So what does that mean?   Classes averaging more than 27 students throughout the day, or a single class over 30 students were agreed by TEA and TSD as the threshold for impact.  From this one can conclude that 27 is the desired maximum in a class.  From a budget perspective, this means that any class over 30 students automatically qualifies for “overload compensation”, and any teacher who has an average of more than 27 students throughout the day qualifies for “overload compensation”.  

A recent public records request revealed that most of the high school classes set 27 as the maximum number of students in a classroom, even though that number is frequently exceeded. 

What classes at BHHS and THS would be considered “overloaded” based on the 27 student maximum? 

Both high schools have several classes that are over the threshold of 27 students, with many over the 30 student threshold too. (Band, Choir, Orchestra and PE were not included in this investigation).

English, Math, Science, and Social Studies, are, on average, more overloaded than non-core classes.  The following chart was compiled from the data showing the size of English classes at both high schools:

THS clearly has many more Freshman than it has room for in the English classes, while BHHS is well under the threshold.  The average Freshman English class size at BHHS sits at 25.6, and at THS it is 28.1.  The Freshman Honors English classes have a more significant difference between the schools.  BHHS does not have any Freshman Honors English classes over 27, with an average class size of 23.  In contrast,  every Freshman Honors English class at THS is over 27, and 50% have more than 30 students, for an average of 30.3 students per class.   

BHHS clearly has more Sophomores than it has room for in English classes, while THS is just under the threshold.  70% of the Sophomore English classes at BHHS are over 27, with an average of 27.9 students.  The Sophomore Honors English classes average 23.8 students.  BHHS clearly has more Sophomores than it has room for in English classes. Although THS is not over the 27 threshold for Sophomore and Junior English classes, THS is approaching the threshold in both Sophomore Honors English(26.3) and Junior English(26.5).  

Notably, 50% of the Senior English classes at THS have more than 27 students and 25% have more than 30 with an average of 28.5 students.  

The same approach with the math classes is as follows:

With Math classes, both schools seem to be similar until you look at the more advanced math classes.  For instance, at both BHHS and THS the Accelerated Math III is significantly overloaded, with both schools having an average class size over 30.  However, Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes at THS (31.5) are significantly more overloaded than similar classes at BHHS(15.8).   Unlike English classes, the students not generally segregated by grade.  It is clear that the early Integrated Math classes have much lower class sizes,  while the more advanced classes are more likely to be overloaded, and in some cases do not have enough desks in the classroom for the students.  For instance, some students in the THS Calculus class to travel to BHHS since THS is so overloaded.  

The same approach for Social Studies classes at both high schools is as follows:

With Social Studies classes, the data seems to follow the English data for both BHHS and THS.  Meaning, the courses for each grade are overloaded if the English classes for that grade are overloaded.  

For example, at BHHS 40% of the World History classes(typically taken by Sophomores), are over the 27 students threshold.  As stated earlier, the Sophomore English classes at BHHS are overloaded. This shows there are more Sophomore students at BHHS than class spots available in both English and Social Studies.

In comparison, THS has 56% of Social Studies Classes typically taken by Seniors over the 27 threshold.  Therefore it can be concluded, like English classes, there are more Seniors at THS than class spots available in Social Study classes.

The same approach for Science classes at both high schools is follows:

For the most part, science classes are below the threshold, with many well below the threshold of 27 students.  The Accelerated Physical Science at THS had 80% of classes over 27 and an average of 27.1 students.  21% of Physical Science classes at BHHS are over the 27 student threshold, with an average of 24.4 students.  Further, 11% of the Biology classes at BHHS are over 27, with an average of 23.1 students.  Physical Science is typically a Freshman course, therefore, like Freshman English classes, there are more Freshman at THS than spots available in the Accelerated Physical Science classes.

From the data above it is clear there are more Freshman and Seniors at THS than spots available in most of the core classes.  Similarly, there are more Sophomores than spots available at BHHS in the core classed.  

In looking at other classes typically taken by Freshman and Seniors there is a clear overcrowding of these particular classes.

This conclusion is highlighted when looking at the Health classes at THS(which are typically taken by Freshman):

BHHS has 33% of Health classes over 27 students and 13% over 30 students with an average of 27.1 students per class.  In contrast, THS has 90% of its Health classes over 27 students, and 50% over 30 students, with an average of 31.2 students per class.  Both schools have more students, likely Freshman, than they have spots in Health. 

Another class typically taken by Freshman at THS is the Tech Theater.  THS has 4 Tech Theater Classes, all of which are  over 27 students, with an average of 31.6 students per class.  

BHHS also has 50% of Spanish I classes over the 27 students with an average of 26 students per class.  BHHS has 67% of Spanish II classes over the 27 student threshold with an average of 27.5 students per class. 

The variables that effect overcrowding are the number of teachers and the number of students, both of which TSD controls. 

The number of incoming residents students is fairly predictable, and TSD can control the number of transfer students approved.  It would seem logical for the decision on transfer students to be made in the summer(after most “move ins” have occurred), when enrollment is more predictable and TSD knows how many resident students will be in the classes.  Our understanding is that this is not the current practice.  Letting the transfer students in before the spaces available have been determined, does not make sense, unless TSD decides to add more classes/teachers. The other option is to allow less Inter-district students to attend THS and BHHS.  

Conclusion.

The TEA contract allows for classes to be overloaded as long as the teachers are compensated, which may not be a bad option at the HS level.  However, similar to elementary classes, when class sizes increase in a high school class, this can create class management difficulties and increase the work load of the teacher.  Limited desk space may also pose a challenge if the class sizes are large enough.  It would appear that either a misappropriation of classes/teachers has occurred or a miscalculation on the number of students attending the high schools. 

The miscalculation is evident with the Freshman and Senior classes at TSD and Sophomore class at BHHS.

For example THS has several typically Freshman classes that are overloaded, as well as several typically Senior classes overloaded.  BHHS seems to have areas of overcrowding generally in the Sophomore classes.  Most of the classes at each schools are not overcrowded, but the core classes are typically the classes that are over crowded.  At BHHS, 84% of the over crowed classes are core classes.  At THS, 70% of the over crowed classes are core classes.  Most of the remaining classes over the threshold at THS are classes typically taken by Freshman students.  TSD needs to either add more teachers/classes or lower the number of students if TSD wants to keep classes below the agreed upon threshold. 

The raw data from our records report can be found on our documents page, here.

As always Scott and I welcome comments and questions.  Please email us at Scottkee@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Elementary Class Size investigated 2018/19

4/02/19

With every new Blog entry we have been learning more and more about the ins and outs of how TSD is running.  There are many moving parts and each one is working with, or has an effect on, something else.  One of those moving parts is class size.  Last summer the community heard a lot of concerns, and reduction of class sizes was negotiated at length.  This entry looks at elementary class size in TSD.  

CLASS SIZE CLEARLY EFFECTS STUDENT SUCCESS

There have been many studies on how class size effects student learning.  You can find studies like STAR that show smaller class size results in an increase in academic performance.   The STAR study used 13-17 students or 22-26 students with a full-time teaching aide as a “small class” and 22-26 students as a regular size class.  SAGE was a multi year study that followed students from K-12,  and also found smaller class size increases academic performance, decreased in high school dropouts and resulted in greater retention of teachers.  An interest sidenote is that both studies showed the increases in academic achievement were larger with minority and lower income students.  

Some main points from an article on the STAR study by Jayne Boyd-Zaharias: 

“The state of Tennessee took seriously the findings about the benefit of small classes for low-income and minority children. In 1989, it established Project Challenge, which provided funds to the sixteen poorest counties (based on per-capita income) for reduced class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. This project was not an experiment like STAR; it was a policy application of the STAR findings, and it got excellent results. Charles Achilles, a member of the consortium that created the original STAR design, followed student achievement in these counties (1997)6 and found that “on average , the Challenge systems that started the 1:15 treatment in 1989 ranked well below the state average.  By 1995 they ranked near or above the state average .”

“The benefit of the SAGE program is especially strong for African-American students. In 1997-98, African-American students in SAGE classes increased their average total score by 52 points, compared with 33 points for African-American
students in control schools.These higher scores in SAGE schools narrowed the achievement gap between white and
African-American students;”

“Interviews of teachers and principals, classroom observations, and other qualitative comparisons of teachers in SAGE and regular schools suggest that SAGE teachers know each of their students better,spend less time managing their classes, have more time for instruction, and are more likely to individualize their instruction.”

You can read her full report here. The complete final SAGE study can be found here

Interestingly, class size impact is even more detrimental on lower income and/or minority students.  I found multiple articles on this topic.  While the general consensus is that students benefit from smaller class sizes, with lower income and minority students the benefit is increased significantly.   On the other hand, larger class sizes do not provide an ideal learning environment for students, and the negative impact is increased with lower income and minority students.

CLASS SIZE AND HOW IT AFFECTS THE BUDGET

Class size management is an important component of the budgeting process.  For example, the simplest way to reduce class sizes is to provide more teachers.  With budgeting, the “impact” number is also an important component.  Having classes at, or over, impact comes at a financial cost to TSD.    

Depending on grade level impact numbers at TSD are 22-27 for elementary age.  The following table is from the current TEA/TSD contract from this fall. This is the list of impact numbers at each grade level.  Once a class exceeds this number it is considered at impact.

The contract negotiated between TEA and TSD specifies an ideal maximum class sizes, which varies with grades/classes.  Once enrollment in a class is over impact, TSD is required to (1) provide a paraprofessional in the class for 2.75 hours of the day (it is unclear to me if this is a per student or a total regardless of how many students over impact this would make a significant difference in the cost), or (2)compensate the affected teacher with an “overload payment”(elementary: $22 per day per student over impact).  The wording in the contract appears to allow the teacher to choose which option he or she prefers.  

From contract Article 37.D.2:

“Impact Paraprofessional Time.
The District and the Association are committed to work toward class sizes that do not exceed the class size levels shown in the chart below. If a level is exceeded, elementary teachers shall be entitled to two and three quarter (2.75) hours of “impact paraprofessional” time, assigned to the individual classes that exceed the class size level, unless other creative solutions are /developed at the site. Teachers may elect to receive overload payment or other flexible options in lieu of paraprofessional time


As noted above, classes being at or over impact results in a less than ideal learning environment(unless a paraprofessional is also in the class).  As an example, test scores in the studies cited above increased with the smaller class sizes overall and a larger increase for low income and minority students.  

SO HOW IS TSD DOING ON ELEMENTARY CLASS SIZES? 

See the chart below, the red numbers indicate the class is over impact.  

22% of the classes at the elementary level are over impact and another 17% are at impact.  Some elementary schools have more classes at and over impact than others.  PGS, THE and LR have the highest numbers of classes at or over impact, where MTS, BL and EO have the fewest classes at or over impact. The chart below breaks down the percentage of classes at and over impact by school.

It should also be noted, that beginning next school year 2019-2020, TSD will be required to have K-3 classes at a maximum of 17 or forfeit significant funding.  Currently, only 8 of the 85  K-3 classes in TSD(11%) meet this criteria.  Accordingly, assuming enrollment and class size  are the same in 2018-19 as 2019-20, 89% of TSD classes in the K-3 grades would be over the 17 student maximum.  This topic came up at a recent Board meeting and there was some discussion about how many school districts are opting to forgo the funding as it is not financially prudent to make sure all K-3 classes meet the 17 student maximum.    

THERE ARE DIRECT FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES WITH HAVING CLASSES OVER IMPACT.

At the time of our records request the elementary schools had a total of 27 classes over impact and a total of 47 students over impact.  So that is 27 classes that either have a paraprofessional or provide extra compensation to the teacher.  Providing the extra compensation to teachers pursuant to the contract is $22 per day, per student, which would result in a total of $186,120 for the school year.  If, instead, TSD paid 27 paraprofessionals the required 2.75 hours in each class the would cost somewhere between $213,000-$294,000.  Notably, these numbers do not factor in the cost of benefits, which is probably at least another 20% or so.   

In the scheme of a $85 million dollar budget, the financial cost is minimal, and probably requires little consideration.  However, the greater cost is to the students in each of those over-crowded classrooms, especially low income and minority students.  While the financial cost to pay a teacher impact fees would be less costly than assigning a paraprofessional in the classroom, from a student’s perspective, studies support the position that another professional in the classroom mitigates the negative impacts of overcrowded classrooms.  I was unable to find a study that investigated whether paying a teacher more to have a larger class also mitigates the impact.  With the current budget situation, TSD schools will likely be faced with some difficult decisions regarding which of these choices is best for the students in TSD.