I firmly believe that smaller classes improve student performance. My position on class sizes has been reinforced as I have met teachers out on the campaign trail. I hear stories of middle school classes in excess of 30 where teachers want to get to everyone for individual instruction but time that could go to teaching is instead spent managing the large numbers, and elementary teachers with too many kids in their class to properly deliver all the instruction they feel the children need.
Unfortunately, our district and the current board have requested waivers from the state to exceed the maximum student to teacher ratio of 22 to 1 in grades one through four. I am against these waivers, and if elected, I will work to move beyond waivers by keeping all our elementary classes at 22 to 1 or lower. I then want to move beyond those grades, because we have more than 30 students per teacher in a lot of our fifth through eighth grade classes. I want to provide immediate relief to classroom overcrowding, and I believe we can pay for this without a tax increase by increasing the percentage of our money that goes into instruction from its current level of 58.3% of expenditures. To state the obvious, 41.7% of our expenditures are on things that are not instruction; so we can eliminate a few non-essentials to move more money into instruction, since instruction is really the whole reason we have schools.
I have been talking about classroom sizes since the campaign began, so I was encouraged that there was an agenda item to discuss classroom sizes at this month’s board meeting. Mrs. Guerra reported that there is space at some campuses that is not currently used as classrooms. This means all it would take to get our student to teacher ratio lower would be to hire some teachers. However, the discussion disappointed me in a few ways. First, there did not appear to be a broad consensus on the current board that decreasing class sizes was something the board should do. Second, I was disappointed that no action came of the discussion. Talking of class sizes does not make the class sizes go down – awareness is the first step but action has to follow. Finally, I was disappointed to once again here the old magic student argument. The argument goes that we must seek waivers because you can be at 22 to 1 then one student can move to a house right next door to Travis. We have to take this student at Travis and then we either have to hire a teacher to teach this one student or we bust the number. This argument reminds me of the movie JFK when the theorist testified about how the bullet that hit the President travelled, because this one student must really get around — our average class size in first grade is 22.7, our average class size in third grade is 23.9, and we exceed the cap across campus and across grade levels.
We very clearly didn’t need waivers because we had a student move during the semester; we needed them because we planned from the outset to exceed the cap at certain grade levels. It is time to make a new plan that values student performance and smaller classes. And if despite all our planning, a handful of students move, Section 25.112 of the code provides for temporary waivers when the district has to accommodate a new student. This change in approach is going to be hard and going to require a fight, so the district needs a trustee who values student performance and smaller classes, and has the strength and leadership to build a consensus around those values. I need your vote, early voting starts Monday and election day is May 9th.