Bulging class sizes

For the last week, I’ve been trying to remember how many people were in my second-grade class at Red Bluff Elementary, a public school tucked among oil refineries in Pasadena, Texas. Our teacher, Mrs. Gates, had bright red hair and ran a tight ship.

I dug through some old boxes and found a class picture. I counted heads. Eighteen kids.

I took this tour down memory lane because I recently received a letter from my daughter’s principal at Sanger Elementary in East Dallas, informing us that the number of students in her second-grade class was increasing from 18 to 25. That’s a 40 percent bump. That’s a big bump. In my opinion, it’s too big a bump.

My first thought was that this was the result of an influx of kids whose families had evacuated to Dallas due to Hurricane Harvey. But I contacted the principal and that’s not the case. (Our principal, Hector Martinez, is fantastic by the way.)

No, six weeks into the school year and our second-grade classes got shuffled because Dallas ISD was evening out the classes across the district. Too many kids and not enough teachers district-wide. And not enough money for more teachers.

This redistribution had a cascade effect: Two teachers from our school were sent to other DISD schools. One of our kindergarten teachers was moved from her class to teach one of the second-grade classes, and the other second-grade class was distributed among the remaining teachers.

Let’s ignore for a minute the disruptive effect this kind of reshuffling has on students, now six weeks into the school year.

Let’s also ignore that the State of Texas says 22 is the maximum class size for second graders, or that these state people who think 22 is reasonable have probably never dealt with 22 7-year-olds, or that DISD regularly obtains waivers to exceed the maximum class size due to state budget cuts.

No, let’s focus for a moment on the underlying problem here: DISD needs more money.

But why does DISD need more money when Dallas’ property values are on the rise? Because we don’t get the benefit of those funds. Last year DISD received an additional $87 million in property taxes due to increased valuations. The state reduced its contribution to the district by $97 million. A second-grader can do the math.

This November, we could be going to the polls to decide whether to increase funding for DISD via a 13-cent tax hike that would have provided $123 million more to DISD. I am exceedingly thankful for Trustees Dustin Marshall, Jaime Resendez, Miguel Solis and Board President Dan Micciche, who worked hard to bring this solution to the table.

Unfortunately, we won’t see that option on the ballot. Why? Because there are five school board trustees who don’t want us to have the choice.

Trustees Bernadette Nutall, Joyce Foreman, Lew Blackburn and Edwin Flores fought against letting us vote on a tax increase. (Trustee Audrey Pinkerton would have voted “no” also, but she took a family vacation during this critical vote.)

I have not heard a single, solitary alternative plan from any of the five opposing trustees about how they are going to adequately fund our schools so my daughter and other children across the city aren’t sitting in overflowing classrooms. What’s their plan?

We’ve got the highest child poverty rate in the state. We’ve also got a lot of middle-class families itching to support DISD and excited by the expansion of dual language programs, Montessori-based teaching, talented and gifted programs and public school choice. We’ve got improving test scores thanks to committed teachers, parents, kids, principals and administration. But cramming kids into classrooms due to lack of funding is just the kind of thing that will push families out of DISD and into private schools.

I don’t know what decisions we’ll be making for our family in the coming weeks, but I do know this: Those DISD trustees who opposed an election to increase school funding need to be held accountable. When we vote for trustees in May, I’m going to remember who wouldn’t let us vote in November.

Angela Hunt is a neighborhood resident and former Dallas city councilwoman in East Dallas. She writes a monthly opinion column about neighborhood issues. Her opinions are not necessarily those of the Advocate or its management. Send comments and ideas to her ahunt@advocatemag.com.

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