Increased funding for day-to-day school operations has allowed Frisco ISD to reduce average class sizes across the District to the lowest levels in several years. That’s despite an enrollment increase of more than 2,400 students over last year, the largest annual increase FISD has seen in three years.
In core subjects, the average elementary class size is currently 20 students to one teacher. In middle school, the average is 24:1 and high school, 25:1.
“The District’s goal has always been to keep class sizes as small as possible while being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars,” said Dr. Mike Waldrip, superintendent of schools. “We know smaller class sizes provide more opportunities for teachers to build relationships with students and address their individual needs.”
In recent years, budget constraints and continued growth have made it especially difficult for Frisco ISD to keep class sizes at desired levels while also maintaining competitive teacher salaries. More than 80 percent of Frisco ISD’s operating budget goes toward payroll, so hiring decisions have a significant impact on the District’s bottom line.
Thanks to voter support of a Tax Ratification Election (TRE) in November 2018 and passage of House Bill 3 by the Texas Legislature this spring, FISD has millions of dollars more in operating revenue to address class size at an ultimate savings to local taxpayers.
“Smaller class sizes have been a priority of the Board for some time and we are pleased to see them come to fruition,” said School Board President Chad Rudy. “The best part is that it’s happening at a time when homeowners are paying lower property tax bills despite increasing valuations.”
Frisco ISD added 150 new regular education teachers to reduce class size K-12 as part of the 2019-20 budget, as well as nearly 50 full-time teaching allocations for special education. That’s in addition to 75 regular and special education teaching positions added in the 2018-19 budget following the passage of the TRE. The District has also set aside funds to hire 20 additional teachers as needed throughout the year to address growth and class size.
As a result of these investments, the District submitted a much smaller number of class size waiver requests to the state. The state of Texas requires school districts ask for an exemption and notify parents within 30 days whenever class sizes exceed 22:1 in grades K-4. FISD asked for 39 waivers from the state this fall, down from 144 at the same time last school year.
The waiver number fluctuates throughout the school year as new students enroll or teachers are added, and the District expects the number of waiver requests to grow some as enrollment increases during the school year. However, by the end of the school year, it is extremely unlikely that Frisco ISD would see as many K-4 classrooms above the 22:1 ratio as in recent years:
Decisions about whether to add a new teacher to reduce class size are always made with student learning in mind. While average class sizes in core subjects are lower across the District, continued student enrollment growth and facility constraints will mean at least some class size waivers for the foreseeable future.
“Adding a new teacher isn’t always feasible or preferred to make the best decision possible for students,” said Dr. Pamela Linton, chief human resources officer. “We work closely with school administrators and evaluate a number of factors, including space, campus needs, quality of the applicant pool and the anticipated impact of a transition on students, among other factors.”
Generally, class sizes tend to be higher in schools with larger enrollments and more limited space. At the secondary level, there is also greater disparity in class sizes in non-core classes due to the fact that students choose course electives based on their own interests and educational goals.
“We will continue to closely monitor class size in order to effectively evaluate personnel needs across the District,” Linton said. “It is encouraging to see the results of our efforts this school year and we look forward to continuing to make adjustments in staffing ratios as we are able.”