Students will see big cuts when school opens in fall
Districts scramble to protect essential classroom services
Published: Thursday, July 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, July 22, 2011 07:07
As the state Legislature struggles to approve education funding, most school districts in the San Antonio area remain uncertain what effects students will see in the fall, predicting increased class sizes, fewer support staff and fewer resources.
"Everyone's going to have a little more on their plate," said Elizabeth Guevara, a science teacher at Stevens High School. "I worry how it's going to look next year."
In the fall, Guevara will likely begin teaching chemistry in addition to her current biology courses to make up for cuts in Northside ISD, the fourth-largest school district in the state. The state projects a $4 billion deficit in education funding, which translates to approximately a $48 million loss in NISD.
Northside has not laid off any employees, including probationary teachers, but it has eliminated counselor, library assistant, academic coach and support staff positions. Schools also will have to share campus instructional technologists. The student-counselor ratio will increase from 425-to-1 to 475-to-1. Consequently, students will have fewer resources available, and class sizes will increase by an average of two students each. To best deploy employees, some smaller courses may be dissolved as well, according to Stephen Daniel, assistant superintendent of secondary administration.
"The No. 1 thing that (superintendent) Dr. (John) Folks and the school board wanted to do was to keep the quality of instruction in the classroom at the best that it could be given the state of the financial situation," Daniel said. "Cuts were pretty deep in other areas to try to keep the number of teachers on campus."
San Antonio ISD has a similar focus. The district's anticipated $34 million cut has led to the elimination of 85 library assistant positions and cuts in each department's budget.
With these changes, there could be a number of other effects that won't be finalized until the Legislature reaches an agreement.
"This has been a very fluid process," SAISD spokeswoman Michelle Jimenez said. "The key is to minimize impact to the classroom."
Journalists around San Antonio have reported on the education crisis, including 18-year-old Joe DeGraff, a high school journalist and recent graduate of Warren High School.
DeGraff's mother is a seventh-grade science teacher at Jordan Middle School, while his father teaches special education students at Holmes High School. The perspective of his parents, combined with personal experience, prompted DeGraff to react angrily when he began researching the origins of Texas' education funding crisis for his newspaper article.
"I was disgusted," DeGraff said. "I kind of felt the same way you would feel if you saw a mugging, if you were walking downtown and saw someone beat up a homeless man and take his shoes."
Another consideration for districts is the new standardized test. At the high school level, incoming freshman will take the new end-of-course exams while the rest of the school will take the familiar TAKS test.
Combined with increased class sizes and fewer resources, the new testing will be a considerable demand on some teachers and campuses. Sara McAndrew, executive director of secondary instruction in NISD, said the district is working to cut down on the confusion of dual testing.
"They're really working to try to protect the interests of the students," McAndrew said.
Not all high school students will face such significant effects of funding deficits. In Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD, the only positions eliminated are those of the school's nine-person police department.
When news of the restructured taxes and projected education crisis reached officials in 2006, the district worked to remain fiscally conservative. In that same year, Texas House Bill 1 capped the amount of local tax revenues brought in by school districts at the 2005-2006 revenue levels. This benefited the district, as they had high property values and tax revenues that year.
Schertz-Cibolo-Universal City ISD still faces an anticipated $7 million in cuts, but spokeswoman Rebecca Villarreal said high revenues means a limited impact on students.
"We were a little more fortunate than others," Villarreal said. "We still had to cut, but we didn't have to cut people."
NISD employees whose positions have been cut will move to other positions that have been vacated by retirement or resignation. The district also has created the Secondary Teachers Academy, where displaced teachers learn how to teach a subject in which they're certified but not necessarily familiar teaching.