“Can the board get assurances from (Superintendent Michael) Hinojosa and the staff that our goal is to maintain, if not reduce class sizes for the advantage of educating our kids?” board Chairman Randy Scamihorn asked.
After an explanation from Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause, saying she thought the staff agreed with the goal, Scamihorn pressed.
“You think, but do you know?” he asked.
“Yes, I believe that,” Krause said.
In a 5-2 vote, with board members Kathleen Angelucci and David Banks opposed, the board voted to approve a resolution allowing the district to apply for a waiver from the state Board of Education to exceed maximum class sizes.
Last year, the district was permitted to exceed the state’s maximum by five students under its approved waiver. Following Thursday night’s approval, that number can go up to a maximum of eight students.
Krause said the increase was an effort to “capture every dollar” of state funding. Classroom allotments have already been made at five students over the state required maximum, she said.
“This does not change that at all,” Krause said. “What this does allow us to do is to have a little bit of flexibility should a class or a few classes go over and we have time to adapt to that.”
Hinojosa said he budgeted five students over the maximum limit for the last two years.
“We’re just asking for these three more so we can have this flexibility,” he said. “We would not be eligible for this flexibility if the school year starts and then we come back and ask you.”
On average, elementary classes will not increase, and sixth through 12th grades will increase by one student. Class size allotments for the 2013-14 school year are as follows: kindergarten student-teacher ratios will be 24 students to one teacher with a paraprofessional, 25 to 1 in first through third grades, 32 to 1 in fourth and fifth grades, 33 to 1 in sixth through eighth grades and 35 to 1 in ninth through 12th grades.
The increase would allow for an increase of four students to the above numbers with the exception of sixth through eighth grade, which is three students.
Angelucci said she understood the explanation and reasoning from staff and why the increase was needed.
“But I also see it as a permission to allow up to eight (additional) students and that I cannot support,” Angelucci said.
Banks said he would consider supporting a waiver, but that eight additional students per class was too many.
“We already have it at five, and I think that’s more than sufficient,” Banks said.
Board member Scott Sweeney cited the local tax digest numbers showing a $5 million decrease as a reason why the resolution should be considered carefully.
“One of the things I cautioned this board against when we actually went through the budget process was that we should pay attention to what the tax assessor’s office was telling us and that we should look at the declining tax digest, and we decided to ignore that and zero out any change in the tax digest,” he said.
Sweeney said he would prefer classes didn’t increase at all, but the board needed to face the present economic circumstances.
“If we don’t have this flexibility, there is a strong, strong possibility that we will lose funding we would otherwise have received from the state,” Sweeney said. “Now, I don’t want to see class sizes grow any larger than they need to, but what I’m understanding is that if we were to change these numbers and ratchet them down, we stand the potential of being in a position where the state will not be able to fund us.”
Authorizing the district to increase the class-size waiver would “take the board out of the picture” in regulating class sizes, Banks said.
Board member Tim Stultz disagreed, saying the board can vote to add teachers during the year in order to draw class sizes down at any time, just like it did last year when the district saw unprecedented enrollment numbers.
Scamihorn asked if there was any data as to how many classes went over the maximum and when the district is in danger of losing funds.
“Because it’s fluid, we have students moving in and out every single day,” Krause said. “It’s difficult to say exactly how many and on which day and at what time and then, because of the way that we serve our students in that we have additional personnel that sometimes come in like (early intervention program) teachers or gifted teachers, that changes that number.” Krause said. “It’s very hard to get a true, accurate count.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that there would be eight additional students above the classroom sized stated. The waiver would actually allow the district to go eight students above the state-required maximum class size. We regret the error.