Response to Superintendent Comments About Transfer Students

4/19/19

by Scott Kee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TSD RESPONSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

TSD RESPONSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TSD RESPONSE

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

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

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

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

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

apture

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

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

CONCLUSION


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

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

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

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