GISD Must Improve Teacher Pay And Benefits

Maria Mercado and Steve McIntyre, Guest Column. Galveston County Daily News. February 24, 2007

During the last month, leaders and staff of Galveston County Interfaith attended all of the public meetings regarding the reconfiguration of Galveston Independent School District.

Superintendent Lynne Cleveland came to two GCI meetings to discuss the options in detail.

We were impressed with the commitment and passion of the parents, teachers, administrators, community members and trustees who were trying to determine the best outcome.

Trustees closed Alamo on the superintendent’s recommendation that this would help address future financial problems resulting from declining enrollment.

The administration also recommended significantly increasing teacher pay and benefits to attract and retain quality teachers.

Now that the district is decreasing the number of buildings and staff, GISD must follow through on strategies to improve teacher pay and benefits.

By closing San Jacinto and Alamo, GISD will reduce the number of elementary classrooms on the island by 23 percent. Trustees declined to convert Morgan from a standard elementary into a pre-K center, which would have closed another 13 percent of the district’s elementary classrooms and risked overcrowding.

There should be enough classrooms at each campus to accommodate all children without using temporary buildings or exceeding the maximum of 22 students per classroom in grades kindergarten to fourth.

GISD administration has indicated it will increase student/teacher ratios next year to the state maximum of 22 students per elementary school classroom. But children don’t come in neat blocks of 22, and schools often have to open extra classrooms at each grade level for this reason.

According to Texas Education Agency reports, most Texas school districts, including districts similar to GISD, maintain a ratio of about 19 elementary school students per teacher in regular education classes.

No district is able to average 22 students in each and every elementary classroom, and GISD should not reduce teacher ranks under the assumption this is possible.

Every GISD elementary campus will likely have more children and fewer teachers in the coming year. If GISD were to average 22 children in all elementary classrooms, the district could cut more than 50 teachers and save about $3.8 million.

But this would mean most of the remaining elementary schools would have 60 to 70 more students and five fewer teachers than they do now.

This may sound appealing on paper, but it would not serve our children or our teachers well. By averaging 19 students per teacher, GISD can cut about 30 elementary teachers and save about $2.5 million.

This would be more practical and should not disrupt teaching and learning.

Challenges abound for this district. But GISD is not a poor district and it is not now in a financial crisis.

It has a $4.3 billion tax base, a $25 million reserve fund and quality teachers and staff.

We need to work together to (1) improve student attendance, student learning and students’ belief that education will make the decisive difference in their lives; (2) address underlying economic issues and public perception that are causing the district to lose enrollment; and (3) consistently weigh every decision by how it will impact our children and their teachers.

Maria Mercado and Steve McIntyre submitted this column on behalf of Galveston County Interfaith, a coalition of religious congregations.