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.

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