Sunday, August 21, 2011

Students Will Feel Effects Of State Funding Cuts When School Starts 

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram: How budget reductions affect students varies by district, but many educators worry that this year is just the beginning of deeper cuts, because a one-time infusion of federal money temporarily saved hundreds of jobs countywide.
"The start of a school year should be exciting for students and teachers," said Steven Poole, who represents area school employees through the United Educators Association. "But not this year when in the back of your mind you're always thinking you might lose your job. It's hard. We already know we're going to have to prepare for another round of cuts."

Fewer teachers, bigger classes

Officials say the impact will be felt the most in the loss of teachers and in increased class sizes.
Some districts, like Arlington and Keller, laid off staff members. Others, including Mansfield and Birdville, trimmed staffers largely by not filling open positions.

The number of teaching positions being cut remains fluid because many districts will make last-minute budget adjustments after school starts and finalize budgets this month. Administrators expect about 175 fewer teachers in Arlington than last year, nearly 85 fewer in Mansfield and about 45 fewer in Keller, for example.

This is the first time widespread cuts have significantly increased class sizes in elementary schools countywide, Poole said.
Texas has a class size limit of 22 students to one teacher up to the fourth grade. But districts including Mansfield, Birdville and Fort Worth plan to request waivers to allow larger elementary classes.

"In past years, once elementary schools hit above that 22, they were hiring an additional teacher, but now more are asking for the waivers," Poole said. "That's a major change from what we've seen."
This year, the Legislature expanded the reasons schools can ask for waivers to include finances. Last year, the state granted 1,061 class-size waivers.

"We do expect more class-size waivers due to the financial situation," Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.
Birdville and Mansfield set their student-teacher guidelines at 23-to-1 in elementary schools. Birdville's projected shortfall is $5.6 million this year, though officials are still working on cuts. Mansfield's is $13 million.

"We're doing everything we can to not have an impact on the quality of instruction," Mansfield spokesman Richie Escovedo said.
Elementary schools in Fort Worth planned to staff classrooms at 24-to-1 as the district expects to have 40 fewer teachers than last year. But that number skews the true impact of reductions because the district is opening five new schools and expanding an existing program.

Read the entire story @ The Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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