It is an exciting prospect, as a destination district, to watch our schools and communities fill with outstanding new young people. At our current growth rate, we are projected to need 10 new schools over the next 10 years to house these students. However, as many of you have experienced, this growth does not always occur over the summer. Nearly every day throughout this school year, we have had new students moving into our district and joining our LISD family. In order to accommodate fluctuating student enrollment, we may apply for a “class size waiver” through the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
The Texas Education Code requires that any kindergarten through fourth grade classroom that exceeds 22 students must request a waiver, through their Board of Trustees, within 30 days after the size was exceeded. After the Texas Legislature cut $5.4 billion from public education funding in 2011, many districts underwent a Reduction in Force (RIF), losing many teachers and educational aides. Leander ISD has largely recovered since then, but the funding flexibility to hire additional staff as needed to accommodate new students is still tenuous. While LISD occasionally took advantage of class size waivers prior to 2011, we have had to utilize them every year since, like so many other fast-growth school districts.
Districts are not required to submit waivers to the state during the last 12 weeks of the school year. Consequently, the March 2 School Board meeting was the last meeting requiring a class size waiver be submitted. To date, LISD has 116 active waivers out of 683 total classrooms. Most of our waivers cover one or two students over the required limit, and some waivers will inevitably go inactive when a student moves or we hire an additional teacher. We continue to monitor our student enrollment every day throughout the school year to ensure we are meeting all the needs of our students.
Several of our elementary schools with multiple waivers, like Parkside, Pleasant Hill and Block House Creek, will be alleviated next school year with the opening of Monta Jane Akin Elementary School. We anticipated the growth in this part of the district years ago and were able to respond appropriately, due in large part to our investment every year in a detailed and highly reliable demographic report that examines housing trends and community development in our district. While this report is an excellent predictor, it is only that; we have already exceeded our expected student enrollment this year by more than 200 students, and LISD continues to grow.
Over the past five years, our district has grown by an average 1,000 students per year. However, that number has ranged from a 700-student increase one year to 1,200 students another. This could mean having to stretch our budget by millions of dollars to provide these new students with teachers, counselors, technology, materials and so forth.
Providing your children with the best possible education while balancing a prudent stewardship of your tax dollars is something our staff and Board treats with the utmost care. Likewise, it is a delicate balance deciding when to add a student to a classroom and apply for a waiver, when to split the class and hire another teacher or when to maintain the class and add a co-teacher or instructional assistant.
We always strive to minimize disruptions to student learning, as well as disruptions to classroom relationships, and work on a case-by-case basis in collaboration with the campus principal and teacher to determine the best solution for everyone involved. I am grateful for the patience and support our students, parents and staff have shown in navigating these necessary growth pains.
I am encouraged, every time I visit one of our campuses, to see the great work going on in our classrooms, and to see the expanding list of accolades and awards lining our hallways. As we grow, I know our teachers and staff are prepared to care for, challenge, nurture and, ultimately, help our students reach their bright futures.