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District 65’s latest enrollment figures show an increase of only 18 students more than last year, Lora Taira reported to the School Board on Aug. 19. She said, though, that students were continuing to enroll and incomplete applications were prepared for 125 students. She said she was not sure if parents who had prepared incomplete applications had a change of plans or if they would send their kids to District 65 which would bump up the enrollment numbers.
Ms. Taira said, “Currently all general education enrollments are within the class-size guidelines” of the District. According to data presented by Ms. Taira, it appears that the class sizes at all schools appear to be comfortably below the class-size guidelines, with a few exceptions.
The class-size guidelines for District 65 are: 23 students for kindergarten; 25 for first and second grades; 26 for third grade; and 27 for fourth and fifth grades. Ms. Taira said the District has operated on a premise that class sizes may equal the guideline plus two students.
Ms. Taira said there are four grade levels in four different schools that are bumping up against the class size guidelines: kindergarten at Lincoln which currently has an average class size of 22.8 students; third grade at Oakton which currently has an average class size of 26 students; second grade at Washington, which has an average class size of 24.5 students; and kindergarten at Willard, which has an average class size of 23 students.
Parents registering new students at these grade levels and schools are being offered the opportunity to attend one of the magnet schools, said Ms. Taira. If parents choose to send their students to a magnet school, it will help to keep these classes within the guidelines.
Another alternative the District has used in the past is if a class exceeds the class-size guidelines, it may add another class at that grade level. This, of course, is subject to budgetary constraints and depends on the availability of additional space at the school. It appears that Lincoln has no space for an additional classroom.
Superintendent Paul Goren said administrators were watching the enrollment figures on a daily basis.
Space Issues at Lincoln School
Lisa Fontoura, a Lincoln parent, told Board members that the population at Lincoln School has been exploding for years, and Lincoln now has the largest enrollment of any school in the District.
Several years ago the school was renovated and new classrooms were added to accommodate the increased enrollment. “We’ve outgrown the renovations and the added classrooms from the renovation,” said Ms. Fontoura. She added that the common areas, such as cafeterias, were now stressed; and it was difficult to provide space for students during recess because the main play area outside the building was converted into a retention pond.
Steve Jones, a Lincoln parent and a vice-president of the PTA, asked the Board to consider whether the staffing needs at Lincoln were being met in light of the increased enrollment.
Mr. Goren said the administration would be considering options for Lincoln, and would consider issues beyond just classroom space.
Board member Richard Rykhus said Lincoln, Washington and Willard schools each had enrollments of about 550 students. He asked, “When does a k-5 school become too big? That’s a question that we need to figure out some difficult answers to, rather than just continue on as we have in the past.”
Questioning the Class-Size Guidelines
Board member Claudia Garrison questioned whether the class size guidelines were too high.
“These seem pretty high to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be happy if my first-grader was going into a class of 25. Is this what we have going on the District in general?”
Board member Katie Bailey said, “We should look at this, and look at what’s the best practice. It’s probably changed since we started this in the 1990s.” She added that the District would have to take into account the impact of class sizes on the budget.
Superintendent Paul Goren said, “We can’t decouple best practice from the budget variable.” He said the class size variable is a major piece in how the District can manage projected deficits.
Richard Rykhus added that research on best practices may help inform the Board about the options when it addresses projected operating deficits.
Earlier this year, the Finance Committee considered an analysis showing how much the District would save if it increased the class size guidelines by one or two students. The savings amounted to $660,000 if the class-size guidelines were increased by one student and $900,000 if they were increased by two students.