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District 833 School Board response cool to raising class sizes

The South Washington County School Board is poised to set class sizes for 2013-14.

Now board members just need to agree on where to set them.

Even though the district's fund balance is projected to be below the amount the board traditionally has maintained, board members were not receptive to increasing class sizes by one student to save $1.4 million and increase the fund balance.

Dave Bernhardson, assistant superintendent for elementary education, and Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent for secondary, said they would put together a plan for an increase that wouldn't negatively affect classrooms. Groups of elementary students are now in several classrooms for instruction unlike in the past when they sat at the same desk all day, they said.

Jacobus said an increase wouldn't literally mean that there would be one more student in each class. The student to teacher ratio formula is complex, he said.

Gelbmann said he is strongly opposed to any class-size increase no matter how it's reconfigured. "Let's do what the community told us to do," he said, and not increase class sizes.

Board member Tracy Brunnette wants more specific information before making a decision, as does newly appointed member Katy-McElwee Stevens.

Board members Laurie Johnson and Marsha Adou were receptive to letting administrators come up with a plan for an increase. They are trying to do their job better, Johnson said.

Chairman Ron Kath and board member David Kemper favor leaving the ratio as it is at 28.5 students per class for elementary, 30.5 for middle school and 31.5 in high school.

"You want them to be creative and innovative but don't do anything different," Adou claimed.

Bernhardson said the increase was being proposed to look at a plan and "have a conversation. We want class sizes to be lower," he said.

"I'd rather tell you now," Gelbmann said.

Taking in their comments, Jacobus said he would bring a staffing plan back to the board.

A decision could come Jan. 24.

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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