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.

9/26/19 Board Meeting Recap

Agenda-can be found here.

The time was not published on the calendar, and the agenda had the meeting starting at 8:30 am, I did arrive about 8:45am, but when I arrived they were discussing the unexcused absent policy.  I am not sure of exactly what I missed of the meeting, since they were rearranging the agenda to accommodate those who were listed on the agenda.    I do believe I missed the discussion on Policy 6100 regarding “REVENUES FROM LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL SOURCES” found here.  I would encourage those of you interested in the meeting agenda items, to watch for the recording to show up on the website-here.  

I plan to have a couple follow-up blogs about items discussed during this meeting, mainly the need for a new elementary and middle school, so watch for those blog articles in the future.

Policy 3122

The policy can be found here.  The discussion was mainly surrounding what they would count as unexcused absences leading to suspension, and how they would be handling continued unexcused absences.  It is no longer attached to kids who are not attending school(ie home hospital, etc).  They discussed some special circumstances surrounding the policy.  For more information and more of the discussion, please see the video when they publish on the TSD site.

Ballot Measure Discussion

Cory Plager-D A Davidson

It appears DA Davidson was hired to advise the district and board on the types of bonds and levys they could put on the ballot.  He went through the basic types and then talked about application of each one.  The discussion included whether or not they would put together a levy/bond proposal to include both the M&O items and the new school or do one for the M&O and then later ask for the new school.  Below are the slides presented showing the different types of bonds/levys and taxes generated by different types of levys/bonds.

The options available:

The Pros and Cons of a voter approved bond.  The major con they discussed was the super majority.  They would need 60% of the voters to approve, and they have to have at least 40% of the voters who vote in the general election vote on the measure.  A discussion of timing based on which election the school bond would follow.  However, decisions need to be made quickly to get any measure on the February ballot. The filing deadline to do so is December 13, 2019.  

They discussed non-voted bonds.  These have more restrictions and depending on the amount, would require a public hearing.  They discussed using something like this to pay for planning a new elementary school.  

They discussed the success of bonds passing based on having M&O (maintenance and operations) proposals linked to a Capital Project (new construction).  They pointed out that single proposals pass at a lower rate than running multiple proposals at the same time.  I am not sure what their data depicts as far as what areas they encompass:

They also looked at the assessed values in our area.  Notice the upward trend the past few years, with a 7.7 % preliminary growth predicted for our area.  He discussed this possibly being low, since they don’t have all the new construction calculated in.  

The levy that passed a few years ago is set to end, and the funds collected will also decrease.

The tax rate history was also discussed.  The amount TSD has been able to collect in the past was a great deal higher than after the McCleary decision. The “fix” increased the amount from $1.50 to  $2.50, which will start in 2020 and is not depicted on this graph.  Projected collections are in the next slide.

This shows the total increase based on the McCleary Decision fix.

This slide shows the amount collected if they were to put a 2 year proposal together based on different rates.  They are calculating based on a 6% growth (previous slide has a 7.7% growth).  I believe this was a discussion just based on collecting for the maintenance and operations proposal.  

The district has approximately $12 million in maintenance and operations (M&O) costs that they are looking to obtain funds to pay for.   Below is the itemized list of items needing funds:

Each of these items were discussed, student devices include chrome books replacement and new implementation, Staff devices-computers etc will need to be replaced, building and classroom technology.  Also on the list was preplanning and design of a new elementary they discussed how this would be a shortcut to getting the school built faster as this would take a year off the implementation if they ran a separate levy to build a school.  I haven’t looked at the budget approved at the last meeting and am not sure if these are already on the proposed budget or if these are new items.

Superintendent Report 

I will paraphrase his discussion as best as I can.  

He started out with a followup.  He discussed the issued brought up by the PGS staff due to the increased numbers they have experienced this year.  When they first noticed the population growth happening they added another kindergarten teacher and paraeducator positions.  He discussed the strain this puts on the rest of the staff-mainly the counseling staff.  PGS has over 600 students.  The state funds counselors at 1 per 800 student at the elementary level.  Our schools are receiving more than is funded at the state level.  The district feels there is a need and have funded more counselors at the schools.  Adding administrators does take some strain off this need, but is not as good as a counselor.  PGS has a Principal and a full-time Assistant Principal.  They do not have funds to provide another counselor at this time, and they are looking at problem solving in this area.  

Kim asked if the staff from Together which is housed at PGS could offer some services, Sean did say Together does have a site coordinator and that does provide an additional resource.  He did say they were going to look at that option as well to help.

The discussion then turned to the projections at both the elementary and middle level with putting together a bond and/or levy in the near future.  The district is planning on building new elementary school and discussed the possibility of a new middle school.  The slides used in the discussion were put together by Parametrix last year for the Boundary Review Committee.  (I plan to write a blog on this particular topic).  Using these predictions, Sean concluded that “we know we have a need for additional facilities.”  

He discussed the to-do list.  He went through the items on the following slide.  

They discussed the bond to upgrade technology, but mentioned this bond is used up.  So there will be a need to replace and upgrade those devices in the future.  This would be continued implementation to get all the schools to a 1 to 1 ratio on chrome books as well as replacements.  Jim clarified that there is still money in the bond to complete the implementation, but they are going to need to do something to get replacements.  Sean did explain they are looking into the benefit of the  1 to 1 chromebook benefits.  This will be discussed later as they get information about the benefits.  

He discussed the safety upgrades they feel are needed at several of the schools.  Cameras need installation and upgrades, sprinkler systems need installation and upgrade.  Power lines owned by the district need to be replaced.  

If all the projects were to be completed, they would need $12.7 million.  This brought on the discussion of going through with a bond right now to build a school, do you back burner these projects, do you package these with the new school?    A 2 year Capital Levy was discussed to cover these costs instead of running the school bond at this time.  (see slide presentation above).  And then as this expires come back with the bond for the new school.  Trying to keep the tax rate steady.  He discussed putting in the planning for a new school in the capital levy to cut some time off the school being started if they waited to propose the new school levy.  They discussed taking 3 years to get the building built after the bond passes.  The earliest a school being built would be approximately 2024.  

The middle school and high school boundaries were brought up.  Sean did mention that they are trying to address transfer processes before they can go into a secondary boundary adjustment discussion.  They are asking Jim Duggan to again help with the transfer policies both inter district (transfers from other districts) and intra district(transfers within our district).  And in the spring start work on the secondary boundary adjustment discussion with an implementation in the following fall.

They hope to have the transfer policies in place so that families that have been affected by the boundary adjustments can make decisions well in advance.  

Kim brought up her opinion for the need to add a middle school with the elementary also.  (watch for my future blog on this topic).  Trying to keep boundary adjustments off until they add a new middle school.    

It was brought up by Jim that in order to get state funds for a new school you have to have a significant amount of students in portables or you don’t get those funds.  

Mel also brought up that with the enrollment down the state will look at trends, which the last 2 years has been down.  The rest of the board and superintendent seemed to think that this was not the case.  (I plan to discuss this in a future blog).

The discussion led to what they were to propose for the capital levy vs. pairing it with the school bond vs. do nothing.  Kim brought up that if we waited until next year to do the school bond, it would be after a presidential election and therefore would require more voters to validate the vote, which the board or superintendent seemed apprehensive about doing this

Andrea stated she would support the early levy to cover the preplanning of a school.  Rita brought up that this discussion will be a big part of their upcoming budget workshop.  Kim asked to get information on just an elementary school vs an elementary school with a middle school.    

Sean did mention that they would also be looking at what type of bond/levy the board would support.  Rita asked for a prioritized list.

Another elementary and high school were also brought up as possibilities for future.

Some fun facts with numbers in the district presented by the Superintendent:

90.5 -the percentage of the school year remaining.

15,250 – the number of meals prepared by food services each week.

83.1 – percentage of students who averaged fewer than 2 absences a month.

10 – the percentage of instruction missed by students having more than 2 absences a moth.

Board Member Comments

Kim Reykdal

Thanked the EOE principal for being the first to participate in the new system the board is trying out, where they meet with the principal in a work session to get information on the work they are doing.  She has been enjoying watching her daughter play soccer at the middle school. Praised TMS for their fundraising, $20K raised.  She is headed to Spokane for Leg. Assembly to discuss WASDA’s legislative priorities for the coming year.  

Andrea McGhee

She met with the PGS Principal and the counselors to discuss what a day in the life of a school administrator is like.  She met with a couple parent leaders to listen to them about what is happening in their schools.  She attended the Together breakfast.  She thanked Khalia for her time on the board.  She thanked Sean for his efforts.  

Rita Luce

She discussed her previous time at “Leg.” She stopped by PGS.  She also praised the new process meeting with the principal beforehand.  

Melissa Beard (not present)

Khalia Davis (not present, resignation effective 9/25/19).

As always I would encourage you to watch for the video to be posted for those of you to watch as I am sure I missed some items.   We welcome comments, questions and suggestions, just email us as contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Also, if you have comments or questions specific to items discussed, please email the board members.

Your school board representatives:

District 1

Rita Luce:  rita.luce@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 2

Kim Reeykdal:  kim.reykdal@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 3

Andrea McGhee:  andrea.mcghee@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 4

Melissa Beard: melissa.beard@tumwater.k12.wa.us

District 5: Vacant

Budget Workshop Part 3-Some Specific Changes

This is the 3rd and final installment of my budget workshop series.  Part 1 was a short entry where I commended the TSD Board for engaging in productive and informative discussions regarding the budget.  In Part 2, I outlined some “big picture” concepts, some which represent a change of course, when it comes to how TSD is approaching the 2019/20 budget.  In this installment, I delve into a few specifics.  As a reminder, the TSD Board engaged in an depth discussion about the budget as part of a budget workshop on August 8, 2019.  Video of the workshop is on the TSD website and can be found here.   

TSD STAFF DECREASES

Salaries and benefits account for over 80% of the approximately $92 million($92MM) in expenses budgeted by TSD.  According to TSD, teachers account for about $40MM, while classified staff is another $16MM.  Employee benefits are roughly another $22MM.  TSD tried to reduce its expenditures by about $5MM this year.   When 80% of your budget is staff related costs, it is difficult to make any significant reductions without substantial reductions in staff costs. 

Accordingly,  TSD budgeted to Hold/Eliminate several non-teacher positions.  These include: 25 paraprofessionals, 3 maintenance, 1 Fiscal, 1 Human resources, 3 TOSA(teachers on Special Assignment—now being sent  back to the classroom) and 1 Technology position. It is possible these cuts can be adjusted in some regard.  The most impactful cut is likely the elimination of 25 paraprofessional positions.   

Paraprofessionals are a great resource for TSD as they provide classroom assistance to teachers, and in some cases can fulfill student/teacher ratios in overcrowded classrooms. They are not required to be certificated teachers, and are paid at a significantly lower rate than teachers.  Notably, the TEA/TSD contract, like most teacher contracts, actually requires paraprofessional assistance in the classroom in some cases(usually when classes are at impact–overcrowded).  Teachers can generally opt for increased compensation or paraprofessional assistance when classrooms are at impact.  

Frankly, TEA pulled off a pretty big victory on this one as TSD did not eliminate any certificated teaching positions.  The TSD/TEA contract requires TSD to send out notices of potential layoffs  to individual teachers no later than May 15th, and TSD opted not to send out any such notices.  Therefore, it was compelled to renew all teachers contracts.  Notably, the decision to lay off teachers did not have to be made by May 15th.  TSD simply had to notify teachers by May 15th if there was a possibility their individual contracts would not be renewed. 

From a budgeting perspective, this seems a little out of whack as certificated teachers are by far the biggest overall cost in the total budget.  It does not take much financial wherewithal to realize having your largest expense “untouchable” when drastic cuts are needed is not ideal.  To be fair, the decision was made before Superintendent Dotson started.  Highlighting the error was the fact that TSD learned shortly after the May 15th deadline had passed that it was going to get about $2 million less in hold harmless funds than it had already projected receiving, thereby necessitating even deeper cuts.  Here is the link to a blog I did on that decision back in May.  

It seems to me the prudent thing to do would have been to notify a dozen or so teachers that their spots might be eliminated, just to keep its options open.  TSD could have then opted to renew the contracts prior to the school year—once it had a better understanding of the status of the budget.   

I took issue with this move at the time as the decision to not even send notices eliminated the potential cost saving measure.  I am not saying teaching positions should have been eliminated, but there is no excuse for making such a consideration impossible knowing $3MM(which turned out to be $5MM) or so needed to be cut from the budget.  What ended up happening is that TSD scrambled to reduce the budget and was left with having to make all the staff cuts with Administrative and paraprofessional employees.   

In hindsight, this was even more problematic as, even with the cuts, TSD projects it will have a deficit of $1.8MM during 2019/20.

I would hope TSD will be a little more prudent during the upcoming year and at least send out notices if there is $3MM or so that needs to be cut from the budget.  Once again, the notices simply provide an option, and TSD could ultimately opt not to complete the layoffs.

TSD IS USING CAPITAL PROJECTS FUNDS TO PAY SOME SALARIES

Levies and bonds approved by voters can only be used for specified purposes.  Traditionally, TSD bond money has gone to Capital projects(maintenance, construction and improvement of infrastructure), and has not been used for salaries to any significant degree. 

TSD has broken with that tradition and will now pay some staff costs from the bond funds.  The effect is that TSD is going to shift about $750,000 from Capital projects, and instead use the $750,000 to pay salaries for those working on Capital projects.  This is a tactic being used by many school districts under the new funding model.  The theory being that funding the employees working on the capital projects is an allowable use of the bonds voters designated to be devoted to Capital projects.  I am unaware of any provisions within the law, or the bonds, that suggests this tact is not allowed.  

Of course, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  The reaction in this instance is that there will be $750,000 less to spend on Capital projects.  I am unclear on how this will actually impact the Capital projects and may take that up in another blog.  Notably at recent meetings, the Board asked probing questions regarding “what is not going to be built/maintained/improved.”  I also imagine this will be part of the discussion the next time voters are asked to approve a bond.   Maybe voters do not care, maybe they want money spent on salaries, etc.    

DESPITE THE NEGATIVE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES, TSD CONTINUES TO SEEK INCREASED ENROLLMENT 

One concern I continue to have is the expressed sentiment that we need, or desire, more students.  This is illogical to me.  I often hear the Board and administrators make comments like ”we hope enrollment increases.”  TSD should serve the students it has, and budget accordingly.   This sentiment appears to be based on a(1) a lack of recognition that increased enrollment actually increases the deficit, and (2) a desire to save as many jobs as possible, regardless of the economics.   

As I have pointed out, on a cost per student basis, the more students TSD has, the larger the budget deficit becomes.  The state is not giving TSD enough money for basic education. In general terms, TSD receives about $9,000 per student per year from the State under the current funding model, but it costs just over $11,000 to educate each student according to TSD’s budget.  In simple terms, the state is shorting TSD about $2000 per student and TSD has to go find that money somewhere else.  Here is a link to a blog that delves into the topic a little deeper.  

TSD currently fills the gap with a combination of levy money and dipping into the savings account.  Dipping into the savings account is not sustainable, and using levy funds is risky, especially given the fact the levy expires in 2020 and is dependent on voter approval of a new levy.       

Of course, TSD must educate the students who live within the TSD boundaries, and come up with a budget that does so.  However, TSD controls how many out of district students it enrolls.  As has been noted in the past, TSD has a disproportionate number of out district students(see blog here), for which it receives no levy money(those funds stay in the student’s resident district), thus creating an even greater financial burden  The deficit with Out of District students is probably closer to $3500 per student.  Either way, increased enrollment is a financial loss.   The TSD leadership’s desire for increased enrollment is contrary to basic economics. 

I believe the desire for increased enrollment is rooted in a “we need to save jobs at all costs” mentality.  I am not in favor of anyone losing his or her job, but staffing to demand is an economic reality of any responsible operation, including schools districts.  

Staff costs account for well over 80% of the budget.  In order to budget appropriately, fewer students creates a need to budget down, which inevitably will include fewer employees.  TSD reduced staff significantly over the last year, and still projects to run at a $1.8MM deficit. 

TSD has been reluctant to reduce certificated teachers.  TSD needs to appreciate the reality that it must operate within it means.  While there is no desire to have anyone lose a job, TSD should budget to reality, and not to some optimistic hope that enrollment is increased. This is especially true given the fact that we are educating students at a financial loss and more students increases the deficit.  

I think TSD should look to be the best, not the biggest.  I am confused as to the mindset of those who “hope enrollment increases” and/or seek to have a liberal policy when it comes to accepting out of district transfers.  Those individuals appear disinclined to accept the reality that the budget issues are not an enrollment problem, and, at least under the current funding model, increased enrollment actually exacerbates the budget deficiencies.      

STRATEGIC ACCEPTANCE OF INTERDISTRICT TRANSFER STUDENTS

 I had a discussion with Superintendent Dotson a while back wherein he indicated he felt IDT students could help with the budget to the extent TSD strategically accepted, and placed, those students.  This would be a welcome change of course as some schools(especially THS) choose to accept IDT student independent, and well in advance of any planning. 

During prior years, TSD did very little planning with respect to enrollment of IDT students.  My experience is that TSD accepts IDT students well in advance of having any ability to strategically place student with budget considerations in mind. Superintendent Dotson confirmed that he is hopeful, and will attempt to implement a plan, that monitors IDT students in a better fashion.  I have a public records request into TSD and will report back about the IDT student numbers for 2019/20. 

IDT students should be welcomed if, and where, there is capacity, but should not displace resident students.  I am hopeful that, unlike the prior administration, the new administration will take the needs of resident students into account as the primary determination with respect to IDT students.  

CONCLUSION

I only covered a few topics, which I thought might be of the most interest. In my view, the current TSD Board is much more engaged, and transparent, which allows more insight into the decision making process.  I will continue to blog about financial(and other) matters.  As always, we welcome your feedback.  

2019/20 BUDGET DISCUSSIONS(PART 1)

As our followers know, I have tried to delve into many budget issues TSD has worked through the last year or so.  The TSD Board recently conducted a budget workshop on August 8, 2019 that was very insightful.  Further, while I was unable to attend the August 22, 2019 Board meeting(and will catch the video when it comes out), the Board should have passed the budget for the upcoming year.   I wanted to hit some highlights, which will take a couple blogs.  My plan is to put together a multi-part blog over the next few weeks hitting some of the high points.  This part is a very short entry about the general process, and what I see as a little different tact than has been present in prior years.     

CHANGE OF COURSE

I have been very critical of the TSD Board with respect to what I felt was a lack of interest in financial items over the past year.  Comparatively, I want to commend the Board for its work over the last few months.   The Board members appear to be very interested in the budget.  I have observed them asking insightful questions, expressing a pretty good understanding(or at least an interest in learning) about the inner workings of the budget.  I hope this focus continues.  Great work on the part of the Board. 

In a similar vein, I have been critical of the TSD Admin at times, primarily because the decision making process appeared to be kept within a tight knit group, with just a few people involved in making really important, and impactful, decisions.  The most recent meetings have evidenced an eagerness to be much more forthright with information, and seek out input from many sources as part of the decision making process.  This practice has been a breath of fresh air, and I am hopeful the open dialogue continues. Kudos to new Superintendent Sean Dotson and Financial Director Jim Brittain.  

The Board recently met and conducted a Budget workshop, which can be viewed at the following link.   The video is about an hour and 45 minutes long and covers many topics.  This might be the best summary, and discussion, available of the current and immediate future status of the TSD Budget.  The meeting was co-led by Dotson and Brittain, with significant participation from the TSD Board.  Well worth the time if you have any interest in the budget.  

That being said, I agree with some of the decisions, take issue with others, and do have some thoughts as to what should occur moving forward.  In upcoming blogs, maybe a 3 part series, I will offer some insight.  For now, I would encourage readers to watch the workshop video.    

More to come . . .

WHAT I WANT FROM THE TSD SUPERINTENDENT AND BOARD (PART 1)?

I do not think it is any secret that I have been critical of the TSD Superintendent and Board performance over the last year or so.  The Board and Superintendent clearly care about the families in TSD, and devote countless hours to improving the education process.  That being said, I am growing more and more concerned about the items to which the Board devotes, and opts not devote, time and resources. I am continually surprised by the lack of involvement when it comes to decisions that have significant impact in TSD.  In talking with others, I realized I am not alone.  There is a growing sense that while the work the Board does is good, TSD would benefit much more from the Board devoting more time and effort to the core duties it is charged to fulfill.  So, I decided to do a 3 part blog series on the topic.  Here is what I plan to cover:

Part 1—What are the core duties of the TSD Board and Superintendent and what role does the current Board and Superintendent play. 

Part 2—I will cover a handful of specific examples(some of which are ongoing) where I think the past practice created less than desired results. 

Part 3—I will propose specific changes that I think should be implemented, especially with an underlying belief that the turnover of leadership presents a unique opportunity to continue to improve TSD.  

PART 1

TSD Leadership is changing.

TSD has welcomed two new Board members(Andrea McGhee and Khalia Davis) over the past 5 months.  In addition, Kim Reykdal has announced she will not seek re-election this fall.  Further, Superintendent Bash, and Assistant Superintendent Chris Woods, have each resigned their positions with TSD.  

I figured the change in leadership presents a good opportunity to start a discussion about things moving forward.  Unlike some of the prior blogs, this series will be heavily weighted with opinions and commentary.  The first part(this one) will deal with the core duties the TSD Board and Superintendent are assigned to carry out, with some commentary setting forth my perception of their performance. 

What happens at Board meetings.

The TSD Board meetings are generally held twice per month.  The evening meetings(2nd Thursday) are at the District Office and the morning meetings(4th Thursday) are usually at one of the TSD schools.  

 The agenda is provided at the meeting, and the President of the TSD Board conducts.  The Superintendent(John Bash) and Finance Director(Jim Brittain) usually make a report.  There is time reserved for public comment(30 minutes or so) where anyone can take 3-5 minutes to talk about a topic of their choosing. There is also usually a presentation(20-40 minutes) by someone from the hosting school highlighting some program.   At many meetings, someone from TSD will make a presentation about a program.  

Oftentimes, there is a “consent” agenda that is voted upon.  The items on the consent agenda are rarely discussed.  

The last 20 minutes of the meeting are reserved for Board comment(each member takes a few minutes to talk about whatever they like). This usually results in the Board members talking about what they have been up to(i.e. “I had a great time at the BHHS play” or “I visited PGS and met with the teachers”, etc).  They are usually positive comments about good things that are happening in the District.  

The TSD Board’s role.  

Frankly, having attended and viewed several TSD Board meetings, and having served on a number of non-profit Boards, I was relatively surprised at the lack of what I would call “business”(discussion, debate and decision making) that occurs at the Board meetings.  That prompted me to look up what the TSD Board is charged with doing.  The TSD website provides as follows:

School Board Directors make all final decisions regarding school district priorities, policies, personnel, textbooks, expenditures, and growth management. Directors adopt a budget which is necessary to maintain and operate the schools, levy taxes to help support the budget, and submit bond issues to finance construction projects to the citizens of the district.

I must say that I was surprised by three things: (1) the primary purpose of the meeting appears to be reporting to the Board, and the Board takes little, if any, action during the meeting; (2) there is virtually no discussion between the Board members, and they speak infrequently; (3) Very little, if any, organizational business is actually conducted by the Board Members.   

The Board members rarely ask each other questions, discuss topics or engage in any public debate.  As an example, the public comment portion is often used by citizens to voice concerns or desires regarding specific issues(budget, out of district students, boundary changes, etc).  It is very rare for any of the Board members to offer clarification, ask questions, or even address comments made by the public.  

The Board members vote upon, and therefore do make the “final” decisions.  However, as will be discussed in future blogs, almost without exception in the meetings I have attended, these votes occur after a presentation(usually by the Superintendent) after which there has been no real discussion.  In many instances, the Board relies much too heavily on the recommendation of the Superintendent and does not appear to be making an informed decision.  

The Superintendent’s role.

According to the TSD website, the Superintendent is charged with the following:

The Superintendent is appointed by the School Board as the chief administrator and executive officer. With the assistance of staff, the Superintendent directs, guides and coordinates the total educational and administrative program in accordance with Board policies and the rules and regulations of the State of Washington. The Superintendent attends all Board meetings and brings recommendations to the Board for action in carrying out the business of the school district.

My first contact with John Bash was during the contract negotiations last summer.  I have since met with John Bash on a number of occasions.  He has been open and candid with me, and provided information as requested.  We often disagree, but I have found him to be cordial and do believe he is doing what he believes is best for TSD. 

From my perspective, John spends a lot of time meeting with TSD employees.  John also attends virtually all school board meetings and provides reports on multiple topics.    

As will be discussed in the next segment, I believe John’s authority and decision making has been much broader than it should be.  For all intents and purposes, he essentially makes pretty much every impactful decision when it comes to TSD.  I am surprised that these decisions are not being made by the Board and the Board members do not devote meeting time to debating issues.  John’s role, at least according to the job description, is to bring recommendations to the Board.  He does that, but very rarely do the Board members ask probing questions that indicate an understanding of the decisions that need to be made.  In fact, when a question is posed by the Board, the question itself evidences a lack of knowledge of the underlying facts and John often spins the answer with some generalization that takes the discussion off topic. 

An example that I will discuss in the next blog is the budget “scrub” that has been referenced in most TSD meetings during 2019.  None of the Board members were provided a list of the cuts(roughly $5 million) prior to the “scrub” being completed.  When a question was asked about the cuts, John or Jim provided a few examples, but offered no real clarity as to the big picture.  Once the scrub was done, at a subsequent meeting in March, Kim Reykdal asked about the list.  I am convince the Board members have no real understanding of what has been cut.  The list was eventually provided to the Board at the May 23rd meeting. The list has yet to be made public.  

As I will discuss in an upcoming blog, removing $5 million in expenses seems like a pretty big decision, that should be debated and decided by the Board.  However, that process did not occur.   

I appreciate my views may differ from that of the families in TSD, and maybe the community wants the Board members to keep doing what they are doing.  However, I sense, especially with the events over the past several months, I am not alone in an island in my views.  I believe the topic is worthy of a discussion.

In the next blog . . .Specific examples of decisions that have been made . . . 

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.

Revisited-Why Change School Boundaries?

3/22/19

During the School Board Meeting  on 3/14/19, in the Superintendent Report, it was mentioned that we would likely need a new elementary school.  Since that meeting, I have spent some time looking at the data again trying to understand why it would be proposed that we would need another elementary school in the future. 

TSD spent a great deal of resources in hiring an outside firm to analyze the area and it’s potential future growth.  From that firm’s projections, it could be argued that building a new elementary is not the most financially prudent plan.  A new school would cost tens of millions of dollars and much of the burden would fall on the Tumwater School District residents.  The enrollment projections through 2040 (3800-4000) are well within the capacities of our schools (4225) as presently used. 

Holding off on building a new school would likely result in continued use of portables, in addition to some boundary changes.   While it can be argued that the use of portables is not ideal, that would need to be balanced with the best use of the funds that would be required to build a new school. 

The growth peaks at around the year 2030 and then starts to decline.  This could be interpreted to mean that the use of portables use would be temporary while TSD gets through the peak in enrollment, thus saving the taxpayers millions of dollars and avoiding having to close, or at the very least under utilize, schools in the future due to low enrollment. 

See the excerpt below from my previous blog on the topic:

Click here for the full Blog on the boundary changes 

Projected Enrollment:

“At the peak of the graph (around 2030) the total elementary enrollment should be around 3775-4000.  Looking at the total capacity for TSD elementary schools(assuming no use of portables) capacity in elementary schools is 3050.  However, if portables were to be used capacity would be 4225.  Notably, enrollment is projected to peak around 2030, with a slight downward trend thereafter. “

“If TSD can operate within its capacity over the next decade, which may involve another boundary adjustment, a good argument could made that spending millions of dollars on a new elementary school is not necessary.  Another piece of the puzzle that was not discussed, was the number of interdistrict students(students not living in the TSD boundaries) TSD enrolls.  From the numbers the committee were given, our elementary schools have a total of 85 interdistrict students.  That number doesn’t seem to significantly change enrollment.  However, TSD may be put into a position of being very selective when deciding whether or not to accept interdistrict kids at the elementary school level.”

Building Capacities:

As always we welcome comments and suggestions.  Click here to email us.

Teacher Strike and 5 Snow Days-Now What?

**Update 3/11/19**

I put this update at the start since it seems we have at least somewhat of a resolution on the missed days.  See below for original post and previous updates.


Friday in the weekly District email the following was announced:

“Weather Make-Up Days Update: Thank you to all 2,540 who participated in the on-line survey giving your input regarding the make-up time for snow closure days. The results of the survey are as follows (#1 received the most votes, #5 received the least votes):

           #1 – Decrease the number of ACT early release Fridays

           #2 – No half-day early release for the last day of school

           #3 – Lengthen the school day by a few minutes each day

           #4 – Shorten Spring Break

           #5 – Saturday School for graduation seniors only

Our waiver application is prepared and requires School Board approval which will be considered at the March 14th Board meeting. After evaluating the hours needed to make up the lost instructional time, we found that we can recoup the time solely from ACT Fridays. In anticipation of the waiver being approved, we are cancelling ACT early release for Friday March 15th and March 22nd while we wait for a decision from OSPI. If the waiver is approved, we will then cancel the remaining ACT days that are scheduled for the 2018-19 school year.

As it stands, if the waiver is approved (and no more days are cancelled due to weather, power outages, etc.), the last day of school will be June 24th and will be a half-day early release for students.

The district is working with our employee groups to identify appropriate ways to make up lost staff time. We will keep you updated when we receive the waiver decision. “

If anything changes on March 14th at the Board Meeting, I will update again.

**End update**

Tumwater School District got off to a later start than usual this year. Adjustments were made to Christmas break, Presidents weekend break and the end of school year to accommodate the lost instructional days originally scheduled in September.  Fast forward to February and we are hit with a giant snow storm.  The storm was more than this area typically is used to, prompting the Governor to declare a State of Emergency.  So, what does that mean to us?

Chris Reykdahl , OSPI Superintendent, released a statement explaining that because of the Governors Declaration, the school districts were allowed to apply for a waiver for those missed days of instruction. https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/WAOSPI/bulletins/22f2490  Mr. Reykdal stated, “State law allows the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to waive missed school days, and school districts will have the opportunity to apply to waive days that were missed while the state of emergency was in effect. However, there is no legal authority to waive the mandatory average of 1,027 hours of instruction for students.”  So what exactly does that mean?  In looking up the statute that makes this requirement, this is an average.  The requirement is actually 1080 hours for grades 9-12 and 1000 for grades 1-8,  https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.150.220  . This brings up the question, what exactly is an instructional hour?  As defined by the Washington State Law:

“Instructional hours” means those hours students are provided the opportunity to engage in educational activity planned by and under the direction of school district staff, as directed by the administration and board of directors of the district, inclusive of intermissions for class changes, recess, and teacher/parent-guardian conferences that are planned and scheduled by the district for the purpose of discussing students’ educational needs or progress, and exclusive of time actually spent for meals. – RCW 28A.150.205 https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=28A.150.205

Specifically meals are excluded, so a regular day of school is 6.5 hours long, taking lunch out leaves 6 hours each day.  So at 6 hours a day for 180 days is 1080.  I don’t know how the ACT days (1.25 hours less for 4.75 total hours), late starts (usually 2 hours), early release days and half days (not including teacher conference days as those are counted as a full day) are going to be accounted for, as that would be lost instructional hours and going far below the already required 1080 hours for grades 9-12.  Maybe they account for that with the younger students (grades 1-8) getting more than the 1000 required hours (approximately 167, six hour days) to make the 1027 hours average(approximately 171, six hour days).  Is that the spirit of the law or a loop hole? These are some of the questions we have posed to the TSD, and will update as we get answers. 

****Update 1*****

John Bash response (email 2/19/19):

“Yes, all districts are required to maintain a record showing how they meet the minimum basic education requirements required by law.  Tabitha Whiting (included here) works in our human resources division and is our point person for maintaining this data.  She can provide you a detailed summary and spreadsheet showing how we meet the requirement.  The requirements are separate for Kindergarten vs. grades 1-12 so we calculate these separately and use an averaging method for grades 1-12.  Again, Tabitha can explain how this is calculated and share our data with you.

Yes, we do plan to apply for a waiver for the days missed last week.  However, we won’t be doing that right away as the possibility of more winter weather still exists and changing the school calendar requires negotiation with our unions which is underway.  We also plan to gather input from parents will have a plan for this developed by the end of this week.  In lieu of making up days at the end of the school year (which is our current contract language with the teachers union), options include such things as eliminating early release Fridays, expanding our current school start/stop times, reducing scheduled vacation days, and/or eliminating any remaining ½ day early releases (like the last day of school).  These options are still being discussed and a plan must be agreed to between the district and our unions.  It’s not one side or the other that unilaterally determines this.  In addition to guaranteeing student instructional time, we also are working with our staff to plan and schedule work time for our 180 day employees that would need to be make up the hours not worked due to any approved waiver of school days.   This often includes professional development and/or other professional work related to their assigned duties and responsibilities.” The following spreadsheet was provided by TSD.  It was also explained, “ We report to the State Board of Education whether we meet the criteria or not as simple yes and no answers“, no data or proof is required to be sent.

This is a little confusing at first glance and there are a few minor errors, but the end average (1041 hours) is the TSD reported average if nothing were to change over the course of the year.  Apparently TSD is not required to update the information as time is lost during the years.  It was unclear if this form is ever updated or they look at those lost hours specifically.  The response was, “We maintain the document internally for record keeping purposes only after the fact”.  It was explained that the snow days that recently occurred are still not accounted for as they may be part of the waiver and that decision has not been made at this point.

Average means some students are not meeting the required minimum hours required:

TSD holds to the “average” as opposed to the differing requirements for grades 1-8 and 9-12.  Since this is allowed under the law some of the grades are well below the required minimum, while some are well above.  If you take TSDs numbers as reported, grades 9-12 are averaging about 998 hours of instruction, grades 1-5 average 1063, and 6-8 average 1062 for an overall average of 1041.  This would meet the requirement under the law.

What About Lunch?

TSD is allowing 20 minutes for lunch for each grade.  The bell schedules for the schools allow 30 minutes for lunch. The definition of instructional hours as stated above includes, intermission between classes, but excludes any time for meals.  TSD stated that they only count 20 minutes for lunch because “The passing time for lunch is considered 5 minutes before and after”. 

Interestingly enough, intermission for the HS is 4 minutes between classes and the middle school 3 minutes between classes, but TSD allows them a “passing time” of 5 minutes before and after lunch.  That brings up the question, does the passing time before lunch and after lunch count as intermittent time between classes or is it considered the same as the 5 minutes before school which is NOT allowed to be counted as instructional time? (A debate for another time maybe).  TSD considers it intermittent time and counts the 5 minutes before lunch and the 5 minutes after lunch as instructional time.

On the Washington State Board of Education FAQ site they discuss lunch time as follows:

8. Is there a standard time that should be reduced from the calculation of instructional hours for time spent for lunch?

There is no provision in basic education law setting guard rails around “time actually spent for meals”in the definition of instructional hours. Other law, however, may condition how districts make this determination.

RCW 28A.405.460, for example, provides that all certificated employees shall be allowed reasonable lunch period of not less than thirty continuous minutes during the regular school lunch periods and during which they shall have no assigned duties, unless they work out other arrangements by mutual consent. Children therefore cannot be under the supervision of certificated staff during those thirty minutes.

The Department of Labor & Industries requires by rule that an adult employee (public or private) must be allowed at least a 30-minute meal period starting no earlier than two hours and no later than five hours from the beginning of a shift. (WAC 296-126-092.)

Why does lunch time matter?

If you took the full 30 minute lunch for each grade, instructional hours for 1-5 would drop to 1033, grades 6-8 would drop to 1032 and grades 9-12 would drop to 945, the average instructional hours would drop to 1011 (well below the requirement).  As a reminder the law is 1000 instructional hours for grades 1-8 and 1080 for grades 9-12 or they can use an average of 1027.  Clearly our 9-12 grade students would fall well below the requirement if we did not employ the average. 

Will update later:  I have sent a question to the Washington State Board of Education to see if I can get clarification as to what they mean exactly by intermittent time and lunch times, and will update as I get more information.

What can you do?

Also, in the response from John Bash he discusses some interesting ideas for making up that time.

“We also plan to gather input from parents will have a plan for this developed by the end of this week.  In lieu of making up days at the end of the school year (which is our current contract language with the teachers union), options include such things as eliminating early release Fridays, expanding our current school start/stop times, reducing scheduled vacation days, and/or eliminating any remaining ½ day early releases (like the last day of school).  These options are still being discussed and a plan must be agreed to between the district and our unions.  It’s not one side or the other that unilaterally determines this.” 

TEA has stated that they will not take days away from Spring Break or have Saturday school, so my guess is these are off the table so to speak since TEA has to agree to any variances from the originally set schedule.  It looks like the only viable options we would have would be to get rid of ACT days, lengthen the school day and/or add days at the end of the year.  The state of emergency would only include 4 of the 5 snow days up to this point.  That means we at least have the one day added on at the end of the year so far.  But we are short 24 hours of instructional hours than originally planned, if TSDs accounting of the hours is correct. Fingers crossed that we don’t have anymore this year. 

Lastly, if you have any ideas, or suggestions about which option you would prefer for making up the lost instructional hours, I would encourage you to contact both TSD and TEA and let them know what you think.  

**Update 2**

Here is a link to the survey TSD put out to fill out a survey for your choice for options, one main problem was they didn’t leave the option to leave the days at the end of the year.   Click here to fill out the survey to vote for your choice on how to make up the instructional time.  Choices being: days off of Spring Break, remove half day on last day of school, Saturday school for seniors(not sure how that helps with the instructional hours if only seniors do this), remove ACT days, and lengthen all school days.  Also of note, in the response from John Bash he stated, “In addition to guaranteeing student instructional time, we also are working with our staff to plan and schedule work time for our 180 day employees that would need to be make up the hours not worked due to any approved waiver of school days.   This often includes professional development and/or other professional work related to their assigned duties and responsibilities.”   I am not exactly certain who falls in this category, but this could mean that employees (which may or may not include teachers) would still be required to work the “180 days”.  

**Update from the 2/28 Board Meeting**

During John Bash’s Superintendent report he stated that they were planning on applying for a waiver, but they were not going to apply until the end of March.  He stated they were waiting because they were waiting until the “snow” season was over.  He also stated we had LOTS of responses from the survey and they were going to look at that as they tried to work with TEA to make a decision about how to make up the hours.

For more information from the Washington State Board of Education you can visit these sites:

https://www.sbe.wa.gov/faqs/instructional_hours#4.%20What%20is%20the%20definition%20of%20instructional%20hours?

https://www.sbe.wa.gov/our-work/waivers

We are always looking for feedback, suggested topics or guest articles.  Feel free to email me at contactus@citizensfortumwaterschools.com

Why Change School Boundaries?

The short answer is to save money by better utilizing our resources.

I have taken part in the Boundary Committee Meetings for the last few months.  Jim Dugan from Parametrix was the “moderator” over the meetings and the liaison between the committee and the District.  He was definitely the expert in the process and very helpful at keeping us on track and focussed on the task at hand. 

Over the last few months the committee discussed the enrollment issues in each of the 6 elementary schools in the district.  Our task was to alleviate some of the overcrowding in a few of the schools by moving neighborhoods into different elementary school zones.  We were told we would only be working with the elementary schools and not worrying about the middle schools or the high schools.  There have been 2 public forums where people were able to voice their concerns and share ideas, however, these forums were not as very well attended compared to the number of people in the District.  

Our district is comprised of 6 elementary schools.  Three of the schools (Littlerock, East Olympia and Peter G Schmidt) feed into Bush Middle School and Tumwater High School.  The remaining 3 schools (Michael T. Simmons, Tumwater Hill and Black Lake) feed into Tumwater Middle School and Black Hills High School.  When the committee started this process, in each of those groups there was one school that was overcrowded and one that was well below capacity.  Our goal was to move neighborhoods to get the schools within their capacity not including portables.  

The two schools that are over capacity also showed the most growth potential over time.  Therefore, if the boundaries are not adjusted, there would be 2 schools not able to house the students at that school while other schools in the district have ample space to accommodate those students.  Starting at the elementary level should ease the adjustment in the long term for MS and HS changes that are likely to occur later on.

What are the enrollment numbers?

In the table above it is clear that BLE and LRE have quite a bit of available space where MTS is quite a bit over and EOE is over a little bit.  We were also given the projected enrollment numbers looking towards the future in the form of a graph(see below).  MTS is projected to increase at the greatest rate.  The rest of the schools were projected to increase at about the same rate.  During the meetings the committee was also told TSD has 2 properties that they have slotted for elementary schools.  The committee was advised not to worry too much about that because if TSD decides to build a school, construction is at least 6 years away, which would not solve the immediate need to even out the enrollment numbers. 

What’s next

We met on March 4th to finalize our recommendations.   We are pretty close to sending our recommendations to the Superintendent.  The next step is for Parametrix to put together the finalized map with correct enrollment numbers.  Then the map will be provided to the Superintendent for his approval.  The Superintendent will then present the map (with any changes TSD makes) to the Board for their approval.  I believe there is also a second reading where the map will be approved and finalized.  The hope is to get those changes implemented in the fall of 2020.  

What does the future hold

At the peak of the graph (around 2030) the total elementary enrollment should be around 3775-4000.  Looking at the total capacity for TSD elementary schools(assuming no use of portables) capacity in elementary schools is 3050.  However, if portables were to be used capacity would be 4225.  Notably, enrollment is projected to peak around 2030, with a slight downward trend thereafter. 

If TSD can operate within its capacity over the next decade, which may involve another boundary adjustment, a good argument could made that spending millions of dollars on a new elementary school is not necessary.  Another piece of the puzzle that was not discussed, was the number of interdistrict students(students not living in the TSD boundaries) TSD enrolls.  From the numbers the committee were given, our elementary schools have a total of 85 interdistrict students.  That number doesn’t seem to significantly change enrollment.  However, TSD may be put into a position of being very selective when deciding whether or not to accept interdistrict kids at the elementary school level.

High School Projected Enrollment

The graph above is what our committee was given as a projection for high school enrollment.  Even though THS and BHHS have virtually the same capacity, the enrollment at THS currently outpaces the BHHS enrollment by about 300 students.  TSD has suggested that it may look at redrawing middle school and high school boundaries in the future.  The high school projected enrollment looks to be pretty stable for THS and significantly increases for BHHS around the year 2026 and upticks through 2036. 

Our building capacity for the High Schools without portables is 2200, and with portables is 2750.  At present TSD enrolls about 2000 high school students.  The total projected enrollment in the high schools in 2036 is approximately 2930.  The projected enrollment is 180 students over the capacity at our high schools. 

TSD currently has approximately 230 IDT students at the HS level.  The number of out of district students at the high schools is generally more impactful as there are proportionately more IDT students enrolled at the high school level than at the elementary level.  In the future, TSD may be faced with redrawing high school boundaries to alleviate some of the imbalance in lieu of spending the money to build a new HS too.  There are other financial implications for IDT students.  See our Out of District Students Impact on Budget for details on the impact IDT students have on the budget.

As always we welcome comments and suggestions.  Click here to email us.