The Effingham County Board of Education has approved a resolution allowing district schools to increase class sizes if necessary in the coming school year.
“(W)e are asking for a lot of flexibility when we actually have class sizes that are still in many instances relatively small,” Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff told the board. “This is kind of looking at what could be a worst case scenario if we move through the year, things don’t get better — more students enroll, and we don’t get any further funding from the state.”
With an eye toward current economic constraints facing local school systems, the state Board of Education moved to allow local school districts to determine their own class sizes next school year, with that authority returning to the state the following term.
The resolution approved at the school board’s meeting Thursday evening would increase class sizes by 1-5 students in core courses, the Early Intervention Program, the Remedial Education Program and alternative education. This caps most of the core content classes at 25 in kindergarten, 26 in grades 2-3, 33 students for grades 4-8 and 35 for high school.
“When you look at that increase, we’re not saying that we’re increasing five to whatever students to every class in the district,” Arnsdorff said.
“We’re just asking for the flexibility if we were ever to need to.”
Next term’s anticipated class sizes are typically lower than the current state class maximum. Arnsdorff reported that, for example, the average high school class size in core content areas was 27.53 students per class, with 35 as the new max.
But Arnsdorff and Superintendent Randy Shearouse suggested that it would be better to give more room to maneuver in the event of unforeseen budget troubles.
“As we started looking at class sizes with faculty here, we did it in a similar way that we normally do it,” Shearouse said. “But we did have to kind of edge the numbers up a bit due to the current crisis because we would have to hire too many additional employees that, quite honestly, the budget can’t handle.”
The highest potential increase will be seven students in instruction only, non-laboratory Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) courses and instruction only gifted classes.
“We were able to determine that if the course only required classroom instruction, we could bring those classes up to the same level as the core content classes,” said Arnsdorff of the seven-student increase in CTAE classes.
Special education sizes were maxed at a two-student increase, but only in classes with a full-time paraprofessional.
Many courses will not be allotted a higher maximum than the current state size, including kindergarten-eighth grade fine arts and foreign language classes, CTAE courses with a lab component, some exceptional course — such as keyboarding, band and chorus — English to Speakers of Other Languages and special education classes without a paraprofessional.
“In all of this, what it usually comes down to, one student may come into a class somewhere in the district in any of these areas and that would cause the whole class to be redistributed and the teacher added just for the one student,” Arnsdorff said. “And so our best advice is to give us a good bit of latitude and I guess our promise is to continue to keep our class sizes as relatively low as possible, ensuring that our instructional program continues to be the last thing that’s impacted by the current budget situation.”