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Class Sizes Swell in Early Grades

Class Sizes Swell in Early Grades

WFISD enrollment hits 14,125, prompting class size waiver requests

 

 

Wichita Falls ISD administrators will ask board members to OK a request to the state for up to 33 class waivers at eight schools to accommodate some larger-than-expected kindergarten and first-grade classes.

 

Board members discussed the issue at a noon Special Session held Tuesday in the Education Center boardroom.

 

State law requires that class sizes be limited at 22 students in kindergarten through fourth grades. A district must either hire a new teacher to divide the large class into two if it appears that the class size will remain stable at the overflow size or request a waiver to allow the class size to be slightly larger.

 

Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths explained that, on September 12, 2016, the WFISD enrollment stood at 14,125 – about 100 fewer students than last year but still remarkably close to the enrollment figure the Wichita Falls ISD used for its budget.

 

The healthy turnout this year to WFISD schools also compares favorably to the troubling count in 2014, which fell shy of 14,000.

 

But this year Franklin, Ben Milam, and Sheppard Elementary Schools all have large kindergarten classes, many serving as many as 26 children. Mr. Griffiths also flagged kindergarten classes at Fowler that counted up to 26 children and first-grade classes at Franklin that were also overflowing.

 

The solution could rest in obtaining 33 waivers at eight WFISD campuses, he said. Or the district could hire three to five teachers, which would reduce the class sizes substantially and reduce the total number of waivers.

 

“Obviously it’s a funding issue and an equity issue,” said Superintendent Mike Kuhrt. The district can be “fluid to a point,” he said. But in some situations, adding a teacher would be “the right thing to do,” he said.

 

“Elsewhere in the District we have nice numbers. At campuses we’re concerned about, we have low numbers, and we want to keep it as such,” he said.

 

Franklin Elementary is full, said Mr. Griffiths, and he said he wanted to consider hiring a teacher there. The Franklin population is shifting, and large classes could negatively affect achievement, he said. Although Fowler Elementary shares many of the same large numbers as Franklin, the possibility that class size may affect achievement is more pressing at Franklin, he said.

 

The large classrooms at four elementary schools did not mean that all seats in the district are taken, he said.

 

Overall, the district is trying to keep children in their neighborhood zoned schools, said Mr. Griffiths. “We could say, ‘Go across town because they’re not full,’” he said, but that was not an option being considered.

 

In every situation, the large classes were purely overflow. No bulging classroom was the result of students transferring into a preferred school.

 

Facility sales: Alamo and Holland

The WFISD Facility Committee met Sept. 9 to consider accepting a bid for the sale of the former Alamo Elementary for $101,000 to Rick and Christy Graham of Graham, Inc.

 

Graham, Inc. purchased the former Austin Elementary School several years ago, renovating it into apartments that went back on the tax roll.

 

It is not currently known what plans Graham, Inc., might have for the Alamo structure.

 

The sale price does not include the gymnasium, which is newer and sits close to the school.

 

Originally, board members planned to demolish Alamo, which sits on a small site. The $300,000 cost to demolish it caused board members to reconsider and put the school up for sale with the caveat that the new owners could not use it as a school. It currently costs the district about $16,000 to $18,000 annually for utilities; there have also been some vandalism costs.

 

“It would be better for it to be back on the tax rolls,” said board member Elizabeth Yeager, “and to get people in it.”

 

The district is also selling the former Holland school, which was once used as a disciplinary school but more recently for storage. The District received a bid of $11,100 from Gold Nugget Properties that board members are also considering.

 

While low, it beats paying the $200,000 to demolish it, board members agreed.

 

Board members did not know what the purchaser was planning to do with the building.

 

When board member Bob Payton cautioned that it might be good to give the community more time to bid on the properties, board member Dale Harvey said that while the community seems to care about the buildings, only two entities had stepped up financially. Particularly with the Holland facility, little interest has been shown to the property in the past 26 years, so he doubted anyone would be coming out of the woodwork for it now.

 

The two schools were advertised in the Times Record News for 14 days. Board members will vote on the possible sales at Monday’s official board meeting.

 

Accepting 2016 Certified Tax Roll

In a 5-0 vote, WFISD board members accepted the 2016 Certified Tax Roll, as certified by the Wichita County Appraisal District and Chief Appraiser Edward H. Trigg. They also accepted the estimated collection rate for the current year.

 

The estimated collection rate for the 2016 tax year is 98 percent.

 

According to the 2016 Appraisal Roll, the total market value of the taxable property of WFISD is $6.135 billion. The total assessed value is $6.1 billion. The freeze adjusted taxable total is $3.8 billion. The number of accounts is 43,619.

 

Revenue generated from frozen taxes totals $4.527 billion.

 

Board members commented on the 46 percent drop in mineral values in surrounding counties.

 

Mineral wealth “is not a substantial percentage of our budget,” said Mr. Kuhrt. “Everyone around us is feeling that pinch.”

“That all goes back to our overall economy and overall demographic,” said board member Bill Franklin.

 

Walk-In for Maintenance

Eighty-three vendors were contacted about being considered walk-ins for the district’s maintenance department, and 49 responded. Some submitted discounts for their services.

 

“This will also allow the District to use local vendors while taking advantage of deeper discounts and vendor specials,” said Jan Arrington in a prepared explanation of the bid.

 

Board members will vote to accept the recommendation at Monday’s board meeting.

 

Security services

WFISD sent requests for proposals for Security Officer Services to 27 firms and received four responses. Chief Financial Officer Jan Arrington recommended that the District accept the recommendation of Ray Cannedy Security and Investigations. The Wichita Falls company would charge the lowest hourly fee, of $18.50, for an annual total of $51,504.

 

The District currently uses AMTEX Security, Inc., which Ms. Arrington ranked second in preference. Its hourly cost was $19.60 for a total annual cost of $54,566.

 

Board member Dale Harvey wondered aloud why requests would be made of 27 firms and only four responded. “What happened there I wonder?” he asked.

 

Board members followed up with a request to learn at Monday’s board meeting the bid criteria and see more details of how each vendor scored.

 

The district uses off-duty police on campuses and also employs security services to patrol elementary campuses and work athletic events, said Mr. Kuhrt.

 

Joint Election Contract

In a 5-0 vote, board members approved the Joint Election Contract and Election Services Contract with Wichita County for the November 8, 2016 election.

 

According to Texas Education Code section 11.0581, elections for school board trustees must be held as joint elections.

 

The Wichita County Clerk agrees to coordinate, supervise and handle all aspects of administering the joint election. WFISD pays a 10 percent administration fee, which is “very fair,” said Mr. Kuhrt.

 

The contract was viewed by the District’s attorney, he said.

 

Policy Updates

Debby Patterson, executive director of school administration, presented policy updates 105 and 106 for the TASB Localized Policy Manual.

 

Update 105 revised wording throughout the policy manual to update passages of the Every Student Succeeds Act (signed into law Dec. 10, 2015), which replaces the previous version of the No Child Left Behind Act.

 

It also updates rules in school issues such as district contracts, integrated pest management, teacher and administrator appraisals, special education, prekindergarten grants, flag displays and individual graduation committees.

 

Policy Update 106 contains revisions related to special education video monitoring.

 

An update to EIE (LOCAL) Policy corrected references to sixth grades that are now located at all middle school campuses in the District.

 

Personnel report

The latest Personnel report showed the resignation of four professionals and 10 clerical or support employees.

 

In a 5-0 vote, board members also approved the certified applicant pool of five new teachers and one non-certified position at the Education Center.

 

“You’d think we’d be fully staffed by now,” said Mr. Kuhrt. “We still have five vacancies.”

 

Three teacher positions approved for hire were listed as “added position” but the District clarified that while the positions were new, they had already been planned for in the new 2016-2017 budget.