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WFISD Will Address Large Class Sizes at Eight Campuses

WFISD Will Address Large Class Sizes at Eight Campuses

District requests up to 33 waivers but may hire four kindergarten teachers

 

 

board meeting Sept. 19, 2016

Board members consider the need for two transformers at the Career Education Center in the Sept. 19, 2016 board meeting.

 

 

Crowded kindergarten classes at Franklin, Milam, Sheppard and Fowler Elementary schools prompted the Wichita Falls ISD administration at its board meeting Monday, Sept. 19, to recommend hiring four new teachers.

 

Hiring four new teachers is the District’s preferred solution to remedy the robust kindergarten classrooms that are surpassing the required one-teacher-for-every-22-students ratio set by the state.

 

But the District also asked for board members to allow them to file up to 33 class-size waivers with the state as an alternate plan. The board approved their request in a 5-0 vote.

 

Classroom sizes are fluid, said Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths, and some classes may shrink under the 1:22 ratio in a few days.

 

Other classes will probably remain large, justifying the need to hire a new teacher and reduce the number of waivers.

 

If the district hired four kindergarten teachers, it could reduce its request from 33 waivers to 21, he said.

 

It will cost the District $200,000 to hire four teachers. The only other additional cost will be for $3,000 in tables and chairs at Franklin Elementary, he said.

 

Superintendent Mike Kuhrt said the District’s revenue would “more than support four teachers,” provided the District’s enrollment remains at its current level of slightly above 14,000 students for the year.

 

Board member Elizabeth Yeager asked how difficult it would be to find teachers at this time of the year.

 

The desired teachers have already been identified and principals are “ready to push the button” to hire them as soon as they have the go-ahead, said Mr. Griffiths.

 

Board member Bob Payton voiced his support for hiring four teachers, citing the District’s history of prioritizing the needs of its youngest. Pre-k is “a horrible place to scrimp,” he said.

 

Homeless Program update

The number of homeless children in the Wichita Falls ISD fluctuates depending on the economy but usually hovers between 400 and 550 students.

 

Because homeless students are identified for District services at the beginning of every year, the current count stands at 135 students but is expected to grow to at least 400 this year, according to Debbie Gonzalez, Homeless Program liaison.

 

The definition of a homeless child has expanded over the years and now includes children who live in one of the city’s five shelters, in a hotel or motel or with grandparents, or are runaways.

 

The District provides a long list of services to its homeless children. It helps them with enrollment, transportation, school supplies, uniforms, hygiene items, free lunches, tutoring and applying to receive financial aid for college. They also receive snack packs on Tuesdays and are referred to the city’s many other agencies for further help.

 

Many organizations partner with WFISD to help the homeless, including Adopt a Box, the Food Bank, and Parents as Teachers.

 

Homeless children exist at all grade levels and all campuses, said Ms. Gonzalez. She speculated that her department had identified about 80 percent of the city’s homeless because of the close relationship with the city’s five shelters.

 

The program rejoiced in several successes last year. The program expanded its Snack Pack program from two campuses to three, adding Burgess in its second semester. The program also added a tutor at the Children’s Home and at the Teen Shelter.

 

WFISD supports homeless students and their families through the Texas Support for Homeless Education Program sub-grant, which is funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education McKinney-Vento Education Program.

 

Two transformers, not one

In a 5-0 vote, board members authorized spending $192,471 to purchase an additional transformer for its Career Education Center, which is currently under construction.

 

The original design of the CEC featured a single, large transformer and switchgear combination to power its utilities. However, if the one transformer ever went out, it would leave the entire facility dark, and it would be difficult to replace the unusually large transformer, according to ONCOR. It was a costly level of risk compared to using a pair of transformers and additional switchgear, according to Jan Arrington, chief financial officer.

 

The original contingency fund was $400,000; the purchase of a second transformer will take 50 percent of the contingency fund.

 

“Two will serve us better than one,” said Mr. Kuhrt. In this North Texas area, such large transformers as originally selected for the CEC are rarely used, he said.

 

Although this action will increase the Guaranteed Maximum Price by re-funding the Owner’s Contingency Account, the overall Project Budget remains unaffected at $35,750,000, according to board documents.

 

Financial Services

Ms. Arrington reported on the District’s operational costs through July 2016, which is 91.7 percent of the fiscal year.

 

All main operating activities this year are very similar to last year, said Ms. Arrington. Last year’s bond refunding and bond sale and this year’s construction costs reflected the main changes noted.

 

General fund revenue was 91.6 percent last year; 92.9 percent this year. Expenditures were 88.4 percent last year; 85.2 percent this year.

 

Food Service Fund revenues were 78.2 percent last year; 87.6 percent this year. Expenditures were 74.7 percent last year; 79.1 percent this year.

 

In the Debt Service Fund, revenues were 99.9 percent last year; 98.8 percent this year. Expenditures were 99.9 percent both last year and this year.

 

Board members approved the financial report in a 5-0 vote.

 

Security officers

WFISD sent requests for proposals for Security Officer Services to 27 firms and received four responses. Ms. Arrington recommended the District accept the recommendation of Ray Cannedy Security and Investigations. The Wichita Falls company will charge the lowest hourly fee, of $18.50, for an annual total of $51,504, and had the highest criteria ranking by the committee.

 

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

 

Board members approved the District’s recommendation in a 5-0 vote.

 

Bilingual program update

An audit of the District’s bilingual program in Spring 2016 uncovered several problems that have been addressed and are continuing to be addressed, according to Mr. Griffiths.

 

The District is moving toward one elementary model and one secondary model for the bilingual program instead of “a hodgepodge of activities” that was used before.

 

The inappropriate coding practice of bumping a student up to a higher level so he could be taken out of the program is “inappropriate” and has been stopped, said Mr. Griffiths.

 

The district’s small staff of three and the growing population of bilingual students will continue to stretch the program’s resources, he said.

 

He is attempting to cluster the programs at several key schools, he said. “It is slow. We need to get the foundation set” in the early grades, he said.

 

Even before the February audit, the District began coordinating badly needed training for its bilingual staff, recognizing that they required more training. “It will be ongoing,” he said. The current brand of training is also helpful for special education teachers and has been well received, he said.

 

Board members asked to see continual updates “so when we get there we’ll know we’re there,” said board member Dale Harvey.

 

“I appreciate you tackling it,” agreed board member Bob Payton. “The Board needs to keep an eye on it.”

 

Board member Bill Franklin thanked Mr. Griffiths for a full and transparent report on what had been a difficult audit.

 

Consent agenda

In a 5-0 vote, board members approved a Consent Agenda that included the following items:

  • Walk-in for Maintenance RFP #16-56
  • Personnel report
  • Amendment of Policy Manual: Policy Update 105
  • Amendment of Policy Manual: Policy Update 106
  • WFISD-Initiated Localized Update for local policies

 

Open Forum

Former Midwestern State University Associate Professor Dr. David Barbosa commended WFISD’s superintendent and Board for bringing its bilingual program into state compliance.

 

Those involved with bilingual education locally were “well aware of issues such as absence of structure, shortage of materials, early exits, little training and the extreme need for translators to reach out to parents,” he said.

 

In the past, all communications about such issues “fell on deaf ears,” he said.

 

He praised the superintendent’s “good judgment” to provide the audit and expressed confidence that the team in place could turn the program in the right direction. Its director “must have your support. Some will resist,” he said.