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833 class-size increase shelved

Until the District 833 School Board gets further into 2012-13 budget talks, most board members say they aren't willing to increase class sizes by one-half student to save $741,000.

The administration is recommending the class-size increase because there is a deadline at the end of March for determining the number of teachers needed next year.

In preliminary budget talks, the board consensus is to hang on to as much of the district's reserve funds as possible because of the uncertainty of state funding. The board is planning to subsidize next year's $157.5 million budget with cash on hand and $2 million in cuts.

Meanwhile, a citizens' budget committee, part of a new budget process suggested by Superintendent Mark Porter, met in December and plans to meet every week in February to advise the board.

There were not as many suggestions for cuts as the administration thought there would be, Porter said, so one way to reach $2 million in cuts is to raise class sizes. A one-student increase, for $1.5 million, was considered, he said.

Board member Laurie Johnson wondered if a one-half student cut is enough.

Keeping class sizes low is a "feel good thing," but research shows it doesn't make a difference until the ratio is eight to one, she said.

When she looked at possible budget cuts, there were too many in the fine arts area, Johnson said.

Board member Ron Kath said he won't consider raising class size until the budget talks over the next month are completed.

"Class size does make a difference," said board member Jim Gelbmann, adding that he doesn't support an increase.

The district is spending $4.5 million to add another building at Liberty Ridge Elementary because of over-crowding, he said, while there is room in other schools.

"Let's not punish the kids," he said.

The board needs to find other ways to cut the budget, said board member Tracy Brunnette. Increasing class size directly affects classrooms, she said.

The final staff ratio for 2012-13 is to be set at the March 22 board meeting, according to district Finance Director Aaron Bushberger.

If fewer teachers are needed , teachers have rights under their contract to request hearings and that process takes time.

If the board keeps the current ratio, and decides to increase it after time has run out for hearings, tenured teachers would continue to be paid even if they are not assigned to classrooms.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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