Parents are worried their children might be sitting in large classes for yet another school year and want class sizes to stop growing.
The Georgia Board of Education passed a resolution in February allowing local school districts to apply for waivers to fill classrooms with more students than the state allows.
This is the fourth year in a row the state school board has adopted a resolution exempting class size maximums for districts that apply.
In a press release, State Superintendent John Barge gave Georgia school districts the green light to apply for waivers, which would give financially-strapped districts the option to keep the number of teachers the same, but fill classrooms with more students.
“While we don’t like having to ask the board for a waiver of the class-size rule, our districts need this flexibility right now so they can continue to operate school each day,” Barge said.
Board members say it’s too soon to make a call
The Georgia Department of Education limits the number of students allowed to be taught within public classrooms, and numbers vary by grade and level of instruction.
High school math, English, social studies, science and foreign language classes can have a maximum of 32 students per classroom. In middle school, the maximum is 28 students. For grades four and five, it is also 28 students. Grades one through three are set at 21 students, and kindergarten is 18 students, according to the Georgia Department of Education.
If Cobb wants to keep its funding for full-time students, it must apply for a waiver from the state if it expects to fill classes with more than the maximum allotted students.
Marietta City Schools can set its own class sizes, as the district is a charter system.
Cobb is no stranger to packing students into classrooms. The board has applied for class waivers before, board member Randy Scamihorn said, at first pushing the limit up to five extra students, and last year received state clearance to add eight more students over the maximum.
Scamihorn predicted the board would make a similar request this year.
“I do anticipate we will need to ask for the waiver,” he said.
If the district doesn’t get the waiver approved, it would be forced to pay out-of-pocket for each student over the maximum.
Scamihorn said he didn’t enjoy adding more students to classrooms, but it ultimately came down to what the district could afford to do. He hopes state legislators will allocate more money to Cobb schools this year, which will help the district afford to start bringing down class sizes and eliminate furlough days.
“We feel we have finally reached the bottom, and with the state’s extra school funding, maybe we can eliminate the furlough days and decrease class size minimally, but not much, because we are not getting a lot of money from the state,” Scamihorn said.
Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci said it was too soon to tell if the board would be requesting class size waivers. The board was waiting for the state to pass its budget, and Angelucci said she couldn’t predict what the board would decide to do.
“As the budget talks progress, we will know more,” she said.
Cobb parents, teachers upset with packed classes
Amoni Witcher, a parent of two at Brumby Elementary school, said she was worried about class sizes, especially at her school, which already has too many students. This fall, Brumby, off Powers Ferry Road in Marietta, enrolled more than 400 students over the building’s capacity and has added 17 trailers to accommodate the growing population.
“I am definitely concerned with class sizes. Our classrooms are not capable of fitting more than a certain amount of students,” Witcher said.
Karin DeAmicis, mother of two at Mountain View Elementary in northeast Cobb, is not surprised with the threat of large class sizes again. Yet, she would rather the district focus on reducing furlough days than reducing class sizes.
“I would much rather have the teachers receive full pay and have 180 school days, and then from there, figure out how to reduce class sizes,” DeAmicis said.
DeAmicis said she trusts board members to make the best decisions with allocating funds this year, but isn’t planning for a drastic change in classroom sizes.
“It’s a constant juggling act for them. I don’t expect anything to happen any time soon,” DeAmicis said.
Connie Jackson, president of Cobb County Association of Educators, a teacher advocacy group, said teachers are already struggling with increased class sizes. They want smaller class rosters.
“What we are seeing in action from the state is that we should not expect class sizes to go down any time soon, and that’s teachers’ No. 1 concern,” Jackson said.
John Morris, a father of four, is disheartened by the news.
Morris spent months researching class sizes in schools across the district, and presented a 33-page summary of his report to the Cobb school board in November, arguing class sizes were unequal and too large across the district.
Class sizes are set at a district level through a complicated formula, which factors the number of course offerings, enrollment estimates and state and local funding, board members say.
“I am frustrated and growing impatient,” Morris said.
Morris believes the trend of growing class sizes will not change. Regardless of how much state funding Cobb receives this year, he believes it is the district’s responsibility to set its own maximums and stick to them.
“The fundamental problem is that the district leadership, board and senior staff, seems unwilling to face the fundamental reality of our situation; that is, the revenue outlook is not going to get any better. Instead of accepting this reality or new normal, the district continues to squander a great deal of effort trying to preserve a status quo that is no longer sustainable and complaining about things that just aren’t going to change,” Morris said.
He believes putting more students in classrooms is a bad way to save money. Morris suggested having motivated students take classes online, saving the shrinking number of teachers for a smaller, more concentrated number of classes.
Students should be encouraged to take classes online and at nearby schools. High schools should reduce the number of courses offered and share precious-few teachers among the schools, Morris argues.
“It might be a politically expedient course, but it will bring nothing but hardship and misery upon the students, parents and teachers of this county. It’s time for the district and its leadership to be honest and admit we are in serious trouble and the only way to escape those troubles is to make some hard choices,” Morris said.