LISD restructures fine arts, class sizes for fall, No teachers to lose employment with changes

By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News

Due to public education cuts made by the Texas Legislature in 2011, Leander ISD is now having to make some restructuring changes, which will go into effect in the fall. Changes will include some revisions to elementary school fine arts curriculums and middle school student/teacher ratios.

Leander ISD Superintendent Bret Champion showed how the district’s continued growth is fueled by today’s demographics.  Photo by Scott Coleman

Leander ISD Superintendent Bret Champion during a presentation last fall. Photo by Scott W. Coleman

“You probably remember that in the spring of 2011, Leander ISD, along with the majority of Texas public school districts, discussed at great length how the Texas Legislature significantly reduced our budgets,” Champion wrote in a February district update. “In LISD, we faced about $22 million in cuts (and were restored only about $5 million in the last legislative session). That spring, the district gathered feedback where we could reduce our expenses.”

One element of the restructuring will be the combining of music and theater arts curriculums for elementary school students. Up until now, elementary schools have had three fine arts strands – visual arts, music and theater arts. Beginning in the fall, the music and theater arts curriculums will be combined into one strand.

For example, Steiner Ranch Elementary music teacher Laura Elorreaga will be going into a grade level classroom to teach.

Veronica Sopher, Leander ISD executive director of school/community relations.

Veronica Sopher, Leander ISD executive director of school/community relations.

“The community of fine arts teachers will be working with our fine arts director to write curriculum to combine the two together using the same model that almost every other district in the state of Texas utilizes,” said LISD district spokesperson Veronica Sopher.

“We’re looking at how to embed all those TEKS that are required by the state to ensure kids are not only getting those but able to complement each other in those skill sets. It will include instruction and opportunities for appreciation and performance in both music and theater,” Sopher said.

Some current elementary fine arts teachers will be assigned to other areas, eliminating a full-time position at each elementary campus. This will in turn reduce the number of additional staff needed as the district grows and opens more schools, Champion said.

“Fortunately, because of our continued student enrollment growth, no teachers will lose employment with this change,” Champion said.

In addition to the fine arts changes, elementary school libraries will also undergo some restructuring. Elementary librarians will now be a part of the specials rotation, giving students additional instructional time in information literacy, digital citizenship, research and inquiry.

“We’re developing the structure for library rotation,” Sopher said. “Students will be given 50 minutes of library instruction every six days versus currently receiving 15-30 minutes every week or depending on the campus, every other week.”

At the middle school level, the district will be modifying the class schedules by increasing the pupil/teacher ratios in order to eliminate the number of positions needed to fill the schedules, according to Champion. He said no middle school teachers will lose their jobs with these changes.

Sopher said the district will not know what the new student/teacher ratios will be until it sees how many new students enroll this summer. She said the ratios will vary from classroom to classroom.

“It will be based on how many kids register for each class,” she said.

She said each class is different as to the maximum number of students it can accommodate. For example, a science lab that is designed for 32 students cannot accommodate more than that.

“There is a logical breaking point and it will vary from class to class and campus to campus,” she said.

The new flex classrooms being constructed at Vandegrift and Leander high schools will allow schools to utilize classrooms smarter and more efficiently, she said.

Because of the budget cuts, a few central office positions will be eliminated, according to Champion.

“We are now in a situation where we have to find efficiencies in everything,” he said. “We believe that a multi-year approach of reducing our dependence on our fund balance is the best way to serve students because there are still a lot of unknowns: LISD is continuing to grow, the school finance lawsuits are back in full swing, and the Legislature will meet again in 2015, and no one knows what will happen when they get together.”