With the start of school less than two weeks away, administrators are keeping a close eye on class sizes and making adjustments to balance out the number of children in classrooms at each grade level.
A class size “watch list” was the hot topic of discussion at last night’s school board meeting. The list, below and also available on South Kitsap School District’s website, shows grade levels and sections at each school that are overcrowded by standards of the local teachers’ union, the South Kitsap Educations Association. Some math and science classes at the high school show up to 40 students per section. Other areas of particular concern are East Port Orchard Elementary, where more than half the classes are near or at maximum capacity, and John Sedgwick Junior High, where most science and math classes are near, at or above the max. Take a look at the list to see where your child’s school and grade level stands.
The watch list is in flux, as administrators try to balance class sizes, but South Kitsap is up against challenging budget constraints, entering the new school year with the largest reduction in force in recent memory.
Sixty-one teaching positions were slated for elimination in May. The district got some enhanced funding from the state and made other adjustments, enabling some positions to be restored. (And the original RIF counted four positions twice.) The RIF now stands at 39.5 FTE teachers, according to finance director Sandy Rotella (although the budget document reviewed at last night’s meeting says 42.8 positions). Certificated staffing (teachers) will drop from 617 last year to 575 this school year, for a projected enrollment of 9,086 students, according to the posted budget. So some increase in class sizes is inevitable, especially at the secondary level, where classes have previously been staffed more generously than the teachers’ contract calls for.
The teachers’ union is in the midst of tense negotiations. Members are supposed to vote on a contract on Monday. But class sizes have become a sticking point. At last night’s meeting Superintendent Michelle Reid outlined the district’s dilemma when it comes to balancing class sizes and teachers’ pay. Eighty-five percent of the district’s budget is for personnel, said Reid, so one way or another the number of people times the amount they are paid must equal 85 percent of revenues. The district and the union must strike a balance between more teachers and higher pay, Reid said.
There is some funding that may be allocated for additional positions, but the district is proceeding cautiously, she mentioned.
Another aspect of the contract that bears directly on students
is language governing class sizes. The current contract lists
“preferred” and “maximum” average class sizes at each grade level.
Here it is, with preferred and max listed in that order (I’ve only
listed academic classes; PE allows more per section at each level,
which is detailed on the watch list.)
K-3rd: 1:24; 1:25
4th: 1:28; 1:29
5th-6th: 1:30; 1:31
“Split” classes that combine two or more elementary grade
1-3: 1:22; 1:24
4-5: 1:25; 1:27
5-6: 1:28; 1:30
7-9: 1:33; 1:35
10-12: 1:35; 1:37
Teachers receive monetary compensation for each class with students over the maximum, but without exception, all would prefer to skip the bonus, said John Richardson, union president.
According to union spokeswoman Judy Arbogast, teachers expect up to 3 additional students per class in many classes at the junior high and secondary levels. While one or two students here and there may not sound like much, one secondary teacher, commenting on blog post by the superintendent put it this way:
In the past few years, my class sizes have risen from about 28 to about 35 students per class. With average class sizes of 35, I cannot meet the needs of every student, no matter how hard I try. I want to give individualized feedback on student work, but struggle when there are just too many essays to grade or projects to evaluate. …
The challenges of more students in each class and a higher workload outside the school day are some of what is driving good, competent teachers out of the profession. I know of several colleagues who have left SK in the past years (many of their positions have NOT been filled) and our department and school are poorer without them.
Karen Little a counselor at John Sedgwick Junior High School, said the concept of average class sizes is misleading, because some like special education are as low as 12, pushing the allowed average maximum up well above 30 students. Tasked with assigning students to classes, Little is struggling.
“I feel like I’m playing chess and somebody’s given me a quarter of a board, and I can’t move anything” Little said.
Teachers also are concerned about increased class sizes in split classrooms. New learning standards and high stakes tests require focused instruction, making it hard for teachers to devote adequate time to students at each grade level. “It’s impossible for me to teach the entire curriculum in half the time,” said Kim Waterman, who teaches a 5-6 split. “It’s impossible to do a really good job by those kids. And that bothers me.”
Chris Lemke noted that the number of students in elementary schools varies. Some schools are crowded; others are below capacity. Lemke said the board recently began talking about ways to even out the distribution, either by moving students to a different school or re-drawing district boundaries. If any of that happens, Lemke said, it won’t happen quickly.
Reporter Steve Gardner is working on a story about how students are assigned to classes. It’s set to run Tuesday.