For the second year in a row, the Fort Worth school district is seeking a state waiver to allow it to exceed class sizes at more than 100 elementary school classrooms.
Public school districts must seek a waiver if they have more than 22 students per elementary school classroom — a requirement under state law. Last school year, the state granted thousands of class-size waivers to districts all over the state, records show.
Last year, Fort Worth sought more than 300 waivers, more than double this year’s request for 131 waivers, said Sammy Monge, Fort Worth’s assistant superintendent for human capital management.
“Why don’t we fix it so [every classroom] has a 22-to-1 ratio. In many cases, it’s a facility issue,’’ Monge said.
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Forty-one of the 131 waivers are for classrooms that exceed the 22-to-1 state requirement by only one student, Monge said. But some schools have as many as 11 noncompliant classrooms.
I don’t want staff to think that it’s just going to be an automatic board approval for those waivers.
Trustee Matthew Avila
Overcrowded classrooms are districtwide. For example, staff is seeking 11 waivers for overcapacity classrooms at Tanglewood Elementary School, which has been a perennial high performer on state accountability tests.
But some, including Trustee Ashley Paz, expressed concern about waiver requests at low-performing schools, such as John T. White Elementary School, which is categorized as “improvement required” in the state’s accountability system, The school has 11 classrooms that are out of compliance, and several classrooms have as many as 29 students each, records showed. Other “improvement required” schools that are expected to have noncompliant classrooms are Clifford Davis, Sunrise-McMillian, Westcreek, West Handley and Hazel. Harvey Peace, school records showed.
Monge said the district is looking to move a portable building to John T. White campus to relieve the overcrowding.
The district gives teachers in the noncompliant classrooms the option of a having a compliance substitute in their classroom or a $2,000 annual stipend, Monge said.
This month, trustees voted 5-2 to approve the request for waivers, with Paz and Trustee Matthew Avila voting no. Trustees Norman Robbins and Christene Moss were absent.
“I have not been [given] any justification for what they are doing to actually address overcrowding in the classrooms,’’ Paz said. But she said she was pleased that the district is seeking fewer waivers this year.
Avila said his own elementary-aged children, who attend Fort Worth schools, have been affected by class-size waivers.
“I wasn’t happy about it because I know what an impact this has for the young kids,” he said.
Avila said he also voted against the waiver request because “I don’t want staff to think that it’s just going to be an automatic board approval for those waivers.’’ He said he also voted no on a request to seek waivers last year.
The Texas Education Agency must still act to approve the district’s waiver request.