Elementary Class Size Re-Investigated

Since I wrote the Blog in the Spring about class sizes and noted several classes were above impact, we requested the class sizes for this year to see how they compare.  Since the strike in the summer of 2018, the community has heard a lot of concerns surrounding class size.  This Fall brought on more restrictions with the implementation of the K-3 legislation.  This Blog entry looks at elementary class size in TSD this year compared to last year.  

Starting with a little background.

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, which comes at a cost.  With budgeting, the “impact” number is also an important component.  Having classes at, or over, impact also comes at a financial cost to TSD. From a budgeting standpoint, the ideal scenario would be one where every class is just below impact.   

The contract negotiated between TEA and TSD specifies an ideal maximum class sizes(“impact”), which varies with grades/classes. 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.

lass-size-elementary

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 (this appears to be the total regardless of how many students over impact), or (2)compensate the affected teacher with an “overload payment”(elementary: $22 per day per student over impact).  The wording in the contract leaves it up to the teacher’s discretion which option they choose.

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”

Studies have shown that classes being at or over impact results in a less than ideal learning environment(unless a paraprofessional is also in the class). The Blog I wrote last year sites some of these studies and goes more in depth in this discussion and can be found here.

SO HOW IS TSD DOING ON CLASS SIZES COMPARED TO LAST YEAR?

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

Class sizes from October 2019

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The class counts listed in red are classes that are over impact.  This year we also requested information on how many paraprofessionals are in the classrooms.  In looking at the data, it appears there are only 2 paraprofessionals who are assigned to work in the classes over impact at the elementary level.  Looking at the chart above, there are 17 classes over impact, which would mean most teachers have opted to take the impact pay over having a paraprofessional in their classrooms.  

The chart below breaks down the percentage of classes at and over impact by school.This Fall, 13% of the classes at the elementary level are over impact and another 8% are at impact.  Some elementary schools have more classes at and over impact than others. Last year 22% of the classes at the elementary level were over impact and another 17% were at impact, so the number of classes at impact has significantly reduced over the last year.   PGS has the most classes over impact, followed by LRE and EOE.  All the classes at BLE and THE fall below the impact number set by the TEA contract.  

creen-Shot-2019-11-19-at-5.19.56-PM

It should also be noted, that beginning this fall,TSD was required to have K-3 classes at a maximum of 17 or forfeit significant funding.  Currently, only 3 of the 88  K-3 classes in TSD(3%) meet this criteria in strict application.  This is actually less classes meeting this criteria than last year(11% met the 17 students or less criteria last year).  But as I understand, the legislature put in place some ways around an actual class size of 17.  The school districts are allowed to also count all certificated teachers including specialists as part of the teacher/student ratio.  I am uncertain if TSD was able to get the numbers to work out to be able to receive the additional funding.

THERE ARE DIRECT FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES WITH HAVING CLASSES OVER IMPACT.

At the time of our records request the elementary schools had a total of 17 classes over impact and a total of 30 students over impact.  So that is 17 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, would result in a total of $660 per day and $118,800 for the school year.  If, instead, TSD paid 17 paraprofessionals the required 2.75 hours in each class the would cost somewhere between $134,000-$185,000.  Notably, these numbers do not factor in the cost of benefits, which is probably at least another 20% or so. Of course, TSD does receive approximately $9,000 per year per student in state funding so it can help the balance sheet to put students in classes over impact.    

In the scheme of an $85 million dollar budget, the financial cost is pretty 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 and a parent’s perspective, studies support the position that another professional in the classroom helps to mitigate 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 continue to be faced with some difficult decisions regarding which of these choices is best for the students in TSD.  It would also be interesting to know which of these classes have out of district students which may also contribute to the over crowding.  We have asked TSD for this data and have been told they do not keep data on which grades in each school out of district students are currently assigned.  This might be data that would be helpful in determining how well we are doing at strategically placing out of district students, but without this data we can only assume a straight percentage which would mean that close to 3-6% of the students in each class are out of district and therefore account for the overcrowding in each of these classes.

As always, we welcome comments and questions.  Email us here.

2019/20 Transfer numbers

I did a public records request  to check in on the number of interdistrict transfer(IDT) students as compared to last year.  I reached 2 overriding conclusions: (1) TSD’s IDT population declined by about 66 students, or roughly 18%; and (2) While all the other TSD schools are getting within the range of their local peers, THS still has a disproportionate number of IDT students, although the number declined significantly this year.

Note—I am sure our followers are fully aware I have strong opinions regarding the decision making process, and logic, with respect to when TSD should or should not enroll IDT students. Here are the links to prior blogs on the topic– IDT counts for last yearBudget Impact of IDT Students and Response to Superintendent Bash’s comments.  Accordingly, while I do offer some opinions in this blog, for the most part I am going to try and not regurgitate information from prior blogs.  

Here are the IDT students by school as compared with last year:

****The chart does not include students at Avanti, New Market or Secondary Options as the Districts have cooperative agreements regarding placements into those schools and they appear to be generally not subject to IDT policies.  

TSD STILL ACCEPTS SIGNIFICANTLY MORE IDT STUDENTS THAN SURROUNDING DISTRICTS

As a reminder, an IDT student is any student who does not reside within the District boundaries. Just to be clear, I did not include Interzone transfers, which are those students who do not attend their home school, but do attend a school within their home school district’s boundaries(i.e a student who lives in Peter G boundaries, but attends Black Lake).  

As you can see, about 5% of TSD’s students do not reside within TSD Boundaries.  This is about double that of the Olympia School District(roughly 2%) and about 5 times that of North Thurston Public Schools(less than 1%).    

While TSD reduced its IDT population this year by about 66 students, there is still a gap before its numbers are comparable to surrounding districts.  

TUMWATER HIGH SCHOOL ACCEPTS IDT STUDENTS AT A RATE THAT IS NOT COMPARABLE WITH ANY OTHER SCHOOL.

THS accepts disproportionately more IDT students when compared to pretty much any other school in the county.   About 13%(153 students) of the THS population is comprised of IDT students.   This is down from 16%(179 students) last year.  I could not get any clarification as to whether or not THS changed its selectivity, although it appears the same timeline was used.  It makes sense to me that, if THS opted to follow the TSD policy, it might ease into the process, and be much more selective with incoming freshman, while not sending previously accepted upper class students back to their home schools  Maybe TSD just didnt accept as many freshman, and we will see a continuing decrease on a year by year basis.  This information is hard to track as I was advised TSD does not maintain IDT information by grade.  

THE NEW SUPERINTENDENT APPEARS TO BE WILLING TO WORK ON THE APPLICATION OF THE IDT POLICIES

Tami and I sat down with Sean Dotson(TSD Superintendent) and Jim Brittain a few weeks ago and discussed the application of the IDT policies(which can be located here).  I came away from our meeting thinking that we are pretty much on the same page on many topics, and I am optimistic that changes will be made.   I think we all agreed on the following:

1.With strategic placement, IDT students can have a positive financial impact;

2.The needs of TSD resident students should take priority over the needs/desires of IDT students;

3. All interzone transfers should be completed before IDT students are accepted;

4. Already accepted IDT students should be allowed to finish out their tenure at their currently enrolled school; and

5.The current policies, are probably adequate.  Any deficiency lies in the application of those policies.

DISPLACEMENT IS SUBJECTIVE

Although there is some discretion in the transfer policies, transfers generally must be rejected when students are “displaced.”  Sean indicated that, at least in the educational system, the term “displaced” is generally limited to those situations when resident students are unable to attend a school.  I am not well versed in the legal definition as it applies to IDT policies. Tami and I pointed out that we believe resident students are displaced when they cannot register for some particular classes, or are required to attend another school in order to take a particular class, or are placed in overcrowded classes, or are denied opportunities for extracurricular activities. 

I remain puzzled why THS consistently accepts so many IDT students.  It is financially taxing on the budget, results in overcrowded classrooms, and negatively impacts resident students. We know around 13% of the population does not reside within the TSD boundaries.  It seems to me an IDT decision should not be made until the master schedule is completed and we know if classes are at capacity.  

While I would never make a contention that extracurricular activities should drive the discussion, it is clear resident students are being denied extracurricular opportunities.  I conducted an informal, and random, survey of some extracurricular activities.  From what I can tell, in most cases, no less than 20% of the spots on varsity sports teams are occupied by IDT students.  At least 2 sports that I know of have more than 40% of starters being IDT students.  This does not surprise me as it is also my opinion, and experience, that IDT families have a higher participation rate in extra curricular activites than resident students.  The above being said, once accepted, the IDT students should have no restrictions on participation, and should be treated like all other students.  However, this is another area where it appears to me the needs of the resident students are being overlooked.    

It also sounds like TSD will move the date back for accepting student transfer applications. Traditionally, THS has started accepting applications in January, but Sean indicated they would not accept applications until the Board considers the committee work(see below)–which is scheduled to finish in February.  I cant imagine any reason TSD would start accepting applications before April or May.       

TSD IS FORMING A COMMITTEE TO MAKE SUGGESTIONS REGARDING THE TRANSFER POLICIES

This is great news.  Tami and I have been encouraging TSD to seek community input, especially from resident families, to determine the parameters around interzone and interdistrict transfers.  The TSD Committee, made up of volunteer community members, is set to meet 3 or 4 times between November and February, and then come up with suggestions.

The Committee will also tackle how to handle interzone tranfers, which has become a pretty hot topic given the boundary changes for elementary schools that have been approved for 2020-21 school year.   I assume, as in the past, TSD will make the work of the committee known during the process so that the general public still has the opportunity to provide input.  

COMMENTARY—PRIORITIZATION IS CRITICAL

TSD is a much desired location for families.  Provided TSD has capacity, TSD should welcome non-resident families into our District once TSD has determined that it has met the needs of resident students.  I am hopeful that the Transfer committee will engage in open and candid discussions surrounding the application of the Interzone and Interdistrict, policies.  The community needs to be heard, and should determine, how TSD moves forward on this particular issue.  If I were King for a Day, I would propose the following.     

1. Offer some priority to children of TSD Staff(this is actually required by State law);

2. Pursuant to the current policy, set some specific parameters with respect to classroom capacity/placement that addresses the needs of resident students(i.e. placement/schedules are done for resident students in advance of accepting IDT students to ensure no resident student is displaced);

3.  Forgo consideration of IDT applications until all Interzone transfers have been considered;

4.  Strategically accept IDT students only when it is financially beneficial under the present funding model;

5. Where IDT spots are available, create some criteria and priority so there is balance and consistency from school to school, especially between the high schools.   

6. Appreciate a nominal number of IDT applicants present circumstances with overriding factors, and should be accepted regardless of the stated criteria

As always, we encourage you to contact TSD leadership, including the TSD Board Members, to voice your opinions.  We also appreciate feedback, and invite others to write guest blogs in the event you are so inclined.  contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com