PNGISD enrollment growth leads to new hire

Published 10:42 am Saturday, September 3, 2016

Kindergarten enrollment in Port Neches-Groves Independent School District is continuing to grow, causing officials to add another teaching position.

“Every year we have positions that are in place based on numbers only. If we don’t have the numbers, there is no need for the teaching position, but this year and in recent years it seems there is an increase in student enrollment,” PNGISD Assistant Superintendent Mike Gonzales said.

As the new school year approached, campus leaders estimated the number of students they typically see.

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That’s when administrators realized there was only one kindergarten seat available at Taft Elementary and two kindergarten seats available at Van Buren Elementary.

State law limits the size of kindergarten through fourth grade classrooms to no more than a 22 students to one teacher ratio.

Texas Education Agency does allow districts to request a waiver to go over the limit in certain scenarios, but they must have a plan in place to correct the situation.

Gonzales said the district has requested waivers for enrollment in recent years.

“But, before they grant you permission to exceed the 22 to 1 ratio, they (TEA) want to know why and in many cases the reason we exceeded the 22 to 1 ratio was because our facilities were not able to house another teacher,” he said.

An enrollment spike a few years ago with prekindergarten caused the district to reconfigure some campuses.

In 2010, prekindergarten and Preschool Programs for Children with Disabilities, or PPCD, students were moved from West Groves Education Center to elementary campuses. But, through the next five years, enrollment continued to climb, causing the district to move those students back to the West Groves campus, thus freeing up classrooms for other grade levels. PK and PPCD students returned to the West Groves campus beginning in the 2015-2016 school year.

“This is why we decided to move the PK teachers to West Groves, to open some classrooms,” he said. “These are things that happen every year and why the district is really looking at building new elementary schools. We’re hoping to pass a bond in the future to build new schools that can house as many teachers as possible to meet the state standard.”

So, as the 2016-2017 school year approached and the enrollment numbers came, administrators were put in an emergency situation in which they had to add a teaching position. The idea of asking for yet another waiver was not an option Gonzales, or the district, wanted to tackle.

Gonzales presented the enrollment dilemma to trustees at a recent meeting.

“I believe the state doesn’t want us to ask for a waiver again,” he told trustees. “Last year we told them we’re going to alleviate the situation, we were talking about new elementary buildings at the time.”

The idea of bringing a bond to voters was discussed last year but put on the back burner while the district waits to hear final word from a local industry that is looking at an expansion project. Should the area be chosen as the official site, then the district would see additional funding through taxes.

“I think that’s the district’s goal, to build some new elementary schools that people in the community can be proud of and students can be proud of,” he said. “But there are a few things that need to be in place before we move forward.”

Adding a new teaching position has many variables.

“There are quite a few things going on. We don’t want to hire a teacher, pay teacher salary and not have enough students,” he said. It’s a balancing act. We also have an obligation to be fiscally responsible, and at the same time, understand for our teachers who live here, this is their livelihood. We do what’s right for them as well.”

Gonzales said they were put in an emergency situation in hiring the new teacher. The teacher had already interviewed for a position and made a positive impression. At that time, with school close to beginning, there was not time to go through the normal process of recommending the hire to the board and getting permission, so the issue got the green light at the last minute.

“We are growing. Maybe not by leaps and bounds, but making positive growth,” he said.

The district is likely to see even more growth as a number of new subdivisions are constructed in both Groves and Port Neches.

Mary Meaux: 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews