Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones threw down a gauntlet Thursday night saying that Houston ISD continues to increase its class-waiver requests -- exceeding the state set maximum of the number of kids who should be in an elementary class and she wants it to stop.
Superintendent Terry Grier, bringing the idea of decentralization to new levels, said his principals were the ones responsible for this, and that "this is not something coming from the Central Office."
He pointed out that parents who wanted their kids at a certain school would not be happy to be told there was no more room and they'd have to go somewhere else. He then tossed down a gauntlet of his own, telling trustees that if they wanted, he would do just that and his administration would begin contacting principals Friday to start moving kids around.
Well it was pretty clear pretty quick that several trustees wanted no part of being on the receiving end of the deluge of phone calls certain to be heading their way, and rapidly shored up Grier's argument.
A good teacher with 30 kids can do more than a poor one with 13, trustee Paula Harris observed -- although she actually voted against asking for more exemptions from the state max of 22 kids in each elementary classroom.
More study should be done. Better demographics developed. The district is shifting on us; we need more data, said trustee Michael Lunceford, who has some of the most popular schools in his area where a lot of students (and their parents) want to be.
Most horrible of all: what would happen if a student had to be turned away from his or her neighborhood school? As Harvin Moore (another trustee with several very popular schools in his district) noted, there could be "unintended consequences" to a hard line approach.
Even trustee Anna Eastman, who said she'd heard rumors of 40 students in one classroom, saw no way around asking the state to grant the exemptions once again this year.
While other nearby districts have worked to lower the student-teacher ratio, HISD has increased its requests. Hiring more teachers won't do it -- it's a space problem, Grier insisted. And he and Moore agreed that really in most cases it's probably only one or two extra kids in each class.
Although Grier pointed out that the state would not allow any "Improvement Required Schools" to exceed class size standards, Board President Juliet Stipeche pointed out that at least half the school requests asking for waivers were in bilingual or ESL classes, containing some of the most at-risk students.
But if the trustees wanted to set new policy and start sending kids hither and yon just to meet some arbitrary number set by the state, then team HISD's administration would do its duty, Grier assured them. But instead, they could take a year to adopt a better plan, confront the principals with the idea that the party was over and they'd need to better hold the line on those principal-approved transfers in the future.
Presented with this comforting loophole -- although Skillern-Jones did say she brought up the same points last year and there was no further study of the situation this year and she pointed out that she had never called for an "extreme" disruption -- enough trustees agreed and passed the measure 5-3 with Stipeche joining Harris and Skillern-Jones in voting against the measure. Trustee Manuel Rodriguez wasn't present.
"This isn't a simple thing that can be solved overnight," Lunceford noted. True words.
In other action and as expected, Houston ISD trustees approved a 1-cent property tax rate increase moving it to $1.1967 per $100 of taxable value. The vote was 7-1 with only school board member Greg Meyers voting against it.
According to HISD's figures this still keeps HISD as one of the best bargains around. Crowded or not.
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