Oct 23, 2023 - News

Families worry about class size, special education in SAISD proposed closures

Illustration of a cursive alphabet poster with "H is for Help" written on it.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Danny Torres has four children at Storm Elementary School southwest of downtown. It's one of 19 schools San Antonio ISD is recommending for closure next year.

  • One of Torres' kids receives special education assistance and is nonverbal, he tells Axios. A teacher at Storm has helped over the years.
  • He's worried Storm's closure would mean their separation.

What they're saying: "It's gonna be hard for her to adapt to another school environment," Torres tells Axios.

Why it matters: Parents and teachers are worried school closures will disrupt teacher-student relationships and harm the services kids receive, they told administrators at a meeting at the school last week. Many are concerned about rising class sizes.

  • District officials believe that concentrating resources in fewer schools will lead to better services and education as the district spends less money on buildings, superintendent Jaime Aquino said.

Catch up fast: SAISD leaders last month announced plans to close 20% of the district's schools, mostly elementary campuses, amid a severe budget crunch due to declining enrollment.

  • SAISD's enrollment fell by more than 11,500 students from 2003-2004 to the 2022-2023 school year.
  • The state funding formula is tied to attendance. The fewer the students in classrooms, the less money a district gets.

Zoom in: SAISD plans to keep teachers, so class sizes should not increase much, Shawn Bird, deputy superintendent, told the community. He expects the average class size after closures to be 21-22 students. The average class size at Storm Elementary is 17 students, Bird said.

  • Storm students would attend either Sarah King or Barkley-Ruiz elementary if the Storm closure is approved. Both schools are about 1-1.5 miles away.
  • "This is a difficult conversation to have. Nobody wants to close schools," Bird said. "We don't want to do it and we know it's inflicting pain on people."

Threat level: Aquino, superintendent as of May 2022, painted a dire picture for the community, saying the district is at risk of bankruptcy if they don't act.

  • "We should be closing 50 schools," Aquino said. "We're not doing that."
  • "There's lots of factors that are causing this, but we have to respond to it," Bird said, "or else we're not going to have a district left to respond to."

Zoom out: Aquino sharply criticized the Texas Legislature for not increasing per-student public school funding since 2019 and not raising teacher pay.

By the numbers: Storm Elementary has 318 students — below the 350 student threshold the district set for closure.

  • The average elementary school enrollment in Texas is closer to 500 students, Aquino said, but he said he knows SAISD families value smaller schools and class sizes.
  • In all, 5,328 kids are enrolled at the schools suggested for closure.

Details: Some at the meeting suggested Storm could be saved by merging with another school on the closure list: Ogden Elementary, a sister school whose culture they said is more in line with Storm's.

  • Bird said officials didn't recommend that because the two schools are farther apart, but that administrators will consider it since they've heard that feedback.

Torres believes officials have already decided to close Storm, and he's not sure the community pushback will make a difference.

  • One child told SAISD administrators about Storm: "Please don't shut down my school."

What's next: The board will vote on the closure plan on Nov. 13.

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