At this very moment, the Dallas independent School District's Citizens Budget Review Commission -- assembled in March to bring fresh eyes to a district budget in need of gutting, thanks in large part to Gov. Rick Perry and the state Legislature -- is meeting to discuss two proposals on the table intended to save the district a combined $29 million, which gets it close to the $37ish million it needs to cut by the coming school year.
One we've discussed at length: closing, or "consolidating," 11 campuses, among them the exemplary James Bonham Elementary. Also up for discussion: "Changing K-4 teacher ratio for staffing from 22:1 to 24:1." The present school year budget limits elementary-school classes at 22 students per teacher, with the caveat: "Cap of 24 in one class per grade." Fifth grade's ratio is 1:27; sixth's, 1:25. At the middle schools, it's 1:24; in the high schools, 1:26.
According to briefing docs prepared for this evening's meetings, titled "Preliminary 2012-13 Budget Overview: Success with Less," the district believes that restructuring that campus staffing formula will lead to the "reduction of 300 teachers." But DISD can't go to the new ratio without first getting a waiver from Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott, who more than likely would sign off on it without much delay. Matter of fact, says TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson on November 18, the district submitted a waiver to jump class sizes in 45 classrooms spread throughout several elementary schools, including Burnet, Stonewall, Lakewood, Ervin, Hogg and Zaragoza. It was OK'd last week.
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For this wholesale do-over, "the district would have to apply for a waiver from the commissioner," Culbertson tells Unfair Park. Countless other districts statewide have been doing it since the Legislature stripped billions out of public education. "Some have gone to 23:1; others, 24:1," she says. "There's no limit, except physical space and what parents will allow."