Although House Bill 3, which is regulating school funding starting this year, will be bringing along some impacts on small schools, there is more in school finances than meets the eye, Comstock Independent School District Superintendent O.K. “Buddy” Wolfenbarger said.
The overall effect of HB3 to small schools will be positive, according to Wolfenbarger. “There are many parts of the bill that deal with increased student and teacher performance in the classroom that will yield great results for our students,” Wolfenbarger said.
It is still too early to notice a financial impact on small schools, according to Wolfenbarger, but he said he is hearing from other small school superintendents that are stating the new bill is really meaning a decrease in funding.
Wolfenbarger said that is the case in Comstock. “We are losing about $180 per student,” Wolfenbarger said.
Even with the decrease in funding, Wolfenbarger said the Texas Education Agency and state legislators have put additional money into public education.
“They are correct. For the first time in 14 years (that I have been here as superintendent), we are getting more state aid than we are paying out in recapture, so that is a plus,” Wolfenbarger said.
Tax rates were reduced, in part from the new bill taking effect, and Wolfenbarger believes that is a win for all taxpayers.
On Monday morning, Wolfenbarger received an e-mail from a small school organization, by way of a superintendent, that asked the question about whether or not small schools gained or lost with the new bill.
“Their (the organization’s) contention is that there are many small schools that lost. I don’t know the end product of that ‘survey,’” Wolfenbarger said.
Student population can be seen as a key factor into the overall effects of the new bill, but Wolfenbarger said student population did not negatively affect how Comstock staff will handle the new programs and directives, which he deems as positive, included in the bill.
“Because of our small population, we have a smaller staff. In small schools, staff members have to wear multiple ‘hats.’ There are very few staff members in smalls schools that just do one thing,” Wolfenbarger said.
Comstock teachers teach six different subjects, as opposed to teachers in a large school teaching one subject each. Wolfenbarger is no exception to wearing multiple hats throughout the school year.
Wolfenbarger also is the maintenance director, transportation director, technology director and a substitute bus driver.
“Wearing more than one hat is a way of life in a small school. It keeps us from getting bored,” Wolfenbarger.
When considering the finance aspect of the new bill, Wolfenbarger said he did not know of any way to offset the loss of funds. The school district already cut 15 percent of its budget, according to Wolfenbarger.
“The only way to significantly cut a school budget is by cutting staff. If we cut staff, our students will suffer,” Wolfenbarger said.
Wolfenbarger said his opinion is that the prevailing current and opinion from the leaders in the Texas Legislature is anti-small school. His opinion is based on the legislature’s statements and “the possibility of small schools being losers in HB3 funding.”
Wolfenbarger could not confirm if that possibility is a trend in small schools. Wolfenbarger said he cannot nor will say the Texas Education Agency is anti-small school. “They work very hard to ensure small schools are taken care of. I have never felt that the Texas Education Agency is anti-small school,” Wolfenbarger said.
The idea of newly licensed teachers and veteran teachers seeking employment at bigger school districts was not a new idea to Wolfenbarger.
He said there is always a danger that will happen, as larger schools can offer higher salaries, across the board.
“If I was entering the teaching field now, it would be tempting to teach in a larger school because of the difference in salary. For me, though, it wouldn’t be a great temptation, as I am sold on small schools; their importance and their ability to educate the whole child better than in a larger school,” Wolfenbarger said.
The student to teacher ratio, which the Texas Education Agency states should not exceed 22 students to one teacher, stresses the importance of small classrooms, according to Wolfenbarger.
When a school district has classrooms that exceed the student teacher ratio, the district must apply for a waiver and have it approved.
Wolfenbarger said the waiver also stresses the importance of smaller classroom sizes.