The bulk of Northwest school district’s $399 million bond package reflects a philosophy born out of tight budget constraints.
State financial woes in 2011 prompted Northwest district officials to move toward larger sized schools to save money on construction, administration, utility and upkeep costs. The budget outlook for 2017 is not a lot better as Northwest may lose $12 million if the Texas Legislature allows Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) to expire in September as the current law states.
More than 60 percent of the bond proposal will go to build three large elementary schools, replace Haslet Elementary with a new, bigger school and expand classroom space at eight campuses.
“That decision has been six years in the making,” said Tim McClure, Northwest district architect and planner.
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Because of the loss of millions of dollars for daily operations in 2011, district officials decided to increase elementary school sizes from a capacity of 650 students to 850. That decision meant that middle schools had to hold 1,200 instead of 1,000 and high schools had to increase from 2,400 to 3,200.
McClure said the district saves on the initial cost of land and constructing additional schools and the ongoing costs of administrative and support staff members, maintenance and utilities.
Does school size matter?
Emily Conklin, district communications director, said that while the school sizes are getting bigger, class sizes are staying the same.
According to the 2016 Texas Academic Performance Report for Northwest schools, class sizes for kindergarten and first grade are slightly below the state average while other elementary grades are slightly above the average. At the secondary level, classes in the core areas are three to four students larger than the state average. Conklin said that across all subjects, classes are below the state average in size.
McClure said that Northwest’s system of having academies at the high schools gives the schools a smaller feel, and the large schools allow for a wider variety of course offerings.
“That ability to have face-to-face interactions with every student is still present,” he said.
In the district’s Long Range Planning Committee’s presentation Jan. 23 to the school board, members said they had gathered information about the academic impact of large schools.
Their report said that while the ideal size for a high school is 1,000 students, having reasonable class sizes and expanded opportunities for learning through career and technical academies, dual credit courses and more diverse extra-curricular options helped improve learning. The report also said that large high schools tend to have better fine arts and athletic programs.
“We have not had to turn kids away from these programs,” McClure said.
Final days before election day
With early voting running April 24 to May 2 and election day May 6, Northwest district officials continue with efforts to educate community members about the bond.
Superintendent Ryder Warren and Conklin hosted a Facebook Live bond information meeting April 18.
As of Friday morning, the video had been viewed about 4,400 times. During the event, viewership peaked at about 150 live views.
Conklin said, “There’s lots of good information there, and busy families can watch it from home.”
District officials also have staff, student and parent ambassadors for the district who share details about the bond with their peers, she said.
A final in-person bond information meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. April 27 at the Northwest ISD Administration Building, 2001 Texan Dr., Justin.
For more information on the bond, go to nisdtxbond.org.