County school officials slam class size increase
by Megan Thornton
June 16, 2013 11:15 PM | 5541 views | 21 21 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Advanced Algebra teacher Verlynda Thompson answers questions from Osborne High School junior Travarius Brown, 17, left, and senior Ernestina Castellanos, 17, as they review for their higher order polynomial functions final in December. Several Cobb County Board of Education members spoke out last week against a proposal to increase the amount of students allowed in each classroom, suggesting the increase to eight students above the state-required maximum would put too much pressure on teachers.
Advanced Algebra teacher Verlynda Thompson answers questions from Osborne High School junior Travarius Brown, 17, left, and senior Ernestina Castellanos, 17, as they review for their higher order polynomial functions final in December. Several Cobb County Board of Education members spoke out last week against a proposal to increase the amount of students allowed in each classroom, suggesting the increase to eight students above the state-required maximum would put too much pressure on teachers.
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Several Cobb County Board of Education members spoke out last week against a proposal to increase the amount of students allowed in each classroom, suggesting the increase to eight students above the state-required maximum would put too much pressure on teachers.

However, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause said the proposal — which calls for three more students allowed per classroom compared to last year — will only serve to cover a small amount of cases, keep the school district from jeopardizing state funding and maintain expectations under the approved fiscal 2013-14 budget.

School districts are required to approve and submit a class-size waiver to the state prior to the beginning of each school year to allow any additional students per classroom over the state-determined maximum allowance.

The issue was taken up during Wednesday’s work session and will be up for discussion during next Thursday’s regular meeting, beginning at 7 p.m.

If no version of the proposed resolution is approved, the district may drain every dollar out of its general fund, Hinojosa said.

“We have to do this before the school year starts, so if eight (students) is not acceptable, we’ll consider an amendment, but we need to have a waiver, otherwise our budget will not work,” he said, after board member Scott Sweeney asked what the budget impact would be if the waiver is not approved.

Hinojosa told the board the resolution is typically approved every year and aligns with the adopted the fiscal 2013-14 budget, which calls for an additional five students over the state requirement for elementary, middle and high school class sizes.

Going up to eight in the waiver application would simply allow more flexibility, he said.

“If during a transitional period, we happen to have more than a certain number of students … we would not capture state aid during the time we exceeded that number,” Hinojosa said. “This is just the number to help us stay within our budget.”

Concerns over larger class sizes

Board Chair Randy Scamihorn and board members Kathleen Angelucci and David Banks voiced concern over increasing the number over last year’s maximum allowance, which varies for different grade levels.

Scamihorn said he thought enrollment “flatlined” last year and was curious as to the proposed increase with the leveling of student attendance.

“I’m a little leery of that much flexibility,” Scamihorn said.

Krause said if approved, the resolution wouldn’t immediately allow principals to add an additional eight students per classroom.

“We have already determined the budget and we have already given teacher allotments to schools,” Krause said. “If we go over by a student or two students, we jeopardize funding for that entire class of students. What we want to make sure is that we have a window that allows us to not do that.”

The allotments for the 2013-14 school year for Cobb Schools are as follows: Kindergarten classrooms will have 24 students to one teacher and one paraprofessional; grades 1-3 will have 25 students per teacher; grades 4-5 will have 32 students per teacher; grades 6-8 will have 33 students per teacher and grades 9-12 will have 35 students per teacher.

“That’s what schools are planning off of and that’s really the expectation,” Krause said. “And this (waiver) is for those few instances that they may have to go beyond.”

Hinojosa gave an example from last year, wherein a high school class exceeded the maximum allowance of five additional students in October. The teacher said he didn’t want to split up the class late in the semester, and the district allowed the class to stay intact at the risk of losing state funding, he said.

“Last year, we got caught a little bit,” Hinojosa said. “That’s why we’re asking for three more instead of the normal five we budgeted for and asked for.”

After eliminating 182 teaching positions through retirements and resignations under the 2013-14 budget, Hinojosa said both middle and high school classes should expect an additional student per classroom.

“At the elementary level, we’re trying not to add any, but because of scheduling and (Early Intervention Programs) and allotments we have to work through a lot of those things,” he said.

Krause tried to ease fears by providing the numbers of class size increases over the last couple of years. In 2011-12, there was no increase in the average class size. This past year, average class sizes increased by two students. Next fall, she anticipates average class size will increase by one student, and only for middle and high schools.

Scamihorn asked whether there are checks and balances to ensure the additional students per classroom are kept to a minimum.

Krause said all of the schools work with their respective area assistant superintendent and Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Hungerford to keep sizes down.

“They contact us right away and tell us, ‘We’re over,’” Hinojosa said. “That’s what triggers the response — they are very much into checks and balances on that.”

Banks said he shared the same reservations as Scamihorn.

“I just have some real concerns about these classroom sizes and I think I’ve made my point very clear many, many times that these classroom sizes — this board needs to focus on how we’re going to get these classroom sizes back down, not increase them,” Banks said.

Angelucci said she felt more comfortable only increasing the waiver request by one student over last year’s five-student waiver.

“I’m really more comfortable with six,” Angelucci said. “It just sits in the back of my mind and what concerns me is the ability to go that high. It just really worries me. And I know that the teachers are very sensitive to that right now — the danger of increasing class size.”

Enrollment may increase

Chris Ragsdale, deputy superintendent of operations, said the district is anticipating a slight increase in enrollment, clarifying Scamihorn’s comment and a separate comment by Banks that enrollment likely would not shift, and potentially even decline.

“The increase we experienced last year might not be the anomaly we thought,” Ragsdale said.

In September, the board unanimously voted to hire an additional 30 teachers to help relieve overcrowded classrooms throughout the district, with the school system reporting almost 1,300 more students than projected at almost every campus. The move required taking $3 million from the district’s reserve fund to pay salaries for the new teachers, as funds from the state to cover the increase weren’t anticipated until this spring.

Two board members used fluctuating enrollment to defend their support of the resolution as-is.

“We very well could see enrollment increases,” Sweeney said. “We don’t know what that number is until all the students are enrolled and one of the things is we don’t want to be caught off guard and surprised by a larger number of students enrolling.”

Board member Tim Stultz, who said schools in his district and throughout Smyrna are seeing higher enrollment, agreed with Sweeney. Stultz expressed concern after Scamihorn suggested a compromise of reducing the waiver request to a maximum of six or seven students.

“If this is being done strictly from funding perspective … we don’t want to short ourselves any chance (to obtain the money),” Stultz said. “Going from eight to seven wouldn’t be that much of a difference except for that fact that it would short us the possible future funding. If we’re looking at it for the budget, obviously we would much rather be responsible.”

After not hearing a “groundswell” of support for changing the number from eight, Scamihorn said he would put the matter on the next meeting’s agenda for discussion as originally proposed.

 

Comments
(21)
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Hwy 57
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June 18, 2013
Please send the walrus back to Texas!!! As for the old timer that wants to out Source Janitorial bus drivers And lunchroom staff Maybe your job should've been outsourced when you Were Working you dead beat! The county employees probably do more by accident than you did In a lifetime of working!!!
Cobb School Advocate
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June 18, 2013
If all of the "area supintendents" on board - why can't they solve this problem - beginning with resigning and Cobb District hiring classroom teachers ?
Can't Believe It
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June 17, 2013
I can't believe you need to ask for 8 more students in high school classes with 35 students currently enrolled. I am not a math teacher but 43 students is 15 too much!

By the way, please note that Central is hiring 2 new Executive Secretaries so each Area Assistant Superintendent has his/her own secretary. Also, in Amy Krause's Curriculum, everyone has his/her own secretary and Amy had two for quite some time.

I say hire more teachers and send Ms. Krause packing along with the bad hire from Texas. We will remember who voted to keep this Super come election time, Board members.
No secretaries
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June 18, 2013
My husband ran a multi million international company for 10 years and there was ONE secretary for the entire staff. Why do we need all of the administrative support that we have? I think it's time for the administration to become more efficient like they are expecting all of the subordinates to do...
anonymous
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June 18, 2013
You have to understand the mentality of the people at the main office. They feel entitled to being above all others, just like some Principals, not all. So they MUST have secretaries so they feel important
You mad bro?
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June 17, 2013
If you are truly TRULY outraged then support a tax increase. A 200000 homeowner would pay $75 more a year on average with a 1 point increase in millage. SEVENTY FIVE DOLLARS to save or schools from failure and our homes from being burglarized by criminals. That's what we will graduating... Those without education become a burden on society as either criminals or sponges of social programs. PAY MORE - IT'S WORTH IT! I know the response... "I'm not paying more. They should manage better... Blah blah blah. In the meantime we fail our children and fill our jails.
Michelle sollicito
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July 03, 2013
I agree that the immediate solution is to support a tax increase and then get rid of the personnel making bad decisions including Hinojosa - if we fire him we can immediately afford 6 extra teachers salaries!
Old timer
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June 17, 2013
whentimer when one half of the county admin and staff are gone...then we will know we have a problem. Cut salaries and staf at the county office and Superintendant level....that is it happening so far. Maybe the yards won't lookso good...outsource janitorial and kitchen staff..bus's drivers...
Just Wait
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June 17, 2013
Everyone is complaining about the teacher/student ratio and finding ways to put the blame on someone. The bottom line is that more teachers cost more money. More teachers will result in more administrative staff, again more money. The property owner is taxed out and the school board is almost at the maximum it can charge. If parents are so upset with this, maybe they need to make donations to the school system so it will have the money to spend. Maybe they need to volunteer in the schools to help out. You can't tax and spend your way to a solution.
Make sure you know..
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June 17, 2013
how class size actually works. It is the AVERAGE size of the classes in the school- so the special ed class or the AP class with 4-5 students in it( yes- I work in a high school and this is very accurate) are AVERAGED with the health/pe class that has 52 in it and then the regular ed Math class with 40 is averaged in- as long as the average stays below the waiver then all is good for CCSD. (Please note my number are examples only!) CCSD wins because they get to lay off teachers (Mark my words- all of a sudden they will not need "all of these extra teachers".

The ones who will pay dearly are the students and the teachers. Imagine trying to teach 52 freshmen in 1 classroom- most rooms are not even able to accommodate this safely. Or math- with no teaching materials- to a class of 40 plus? Oh yeah- I can see failure all over this- but good job CCSD on balancing a budget. NO WAY!
I16
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June 17, 2013
Michael Hinojosa (MR. Walrus) and Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause.

Send the Walrus back to Texas.

No Way
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June 17, 2013
There is NO WAY that these class size numbers should be acceptable to anyone in Cobb County. We need to do something about what is going on here in our school district. We can compare numbers from this year to last but let's compare this year to 10 years ago or even 5 years ago. What were class sizes then? What were salaries like before we started furlough days? Our teachers are doing more with less and they are worn out. So what are we going to do about this School Board and Administration????
Solving the problem
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June 17, 2013
Listen, to truly solve the problem Cobb County needs to revisit the senior exemption for school tax. Even if this grandfathers in current seniors and slowly prorates new seniors for paying. The bottom line is CCSD does not have the money to serve all these students.
What is Important?
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June 17, 2013
The limits for ALL classrooms are already too high, especially 3rd thru 12th grade. How can a math teacher help 6 students who need extra help when there are 32-35 students in the class? An absurd expectation! Get rid of some unncessary high salary hangers on at Glover ST and raise the millage rate.

Get serious about educating Cobb County students and stop playing politics and stop providing jobs to pad your teacher retirement.
Need help
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June 17, 2013
The public needs to wake up and recognize that politics are ruining our school district. The governor, legislators like Alissa Morgan and her husband David Morgan (one of our board members) are the problem. They get paid by these for profit companies to brag about charter schools and Teach for America. The governor refuses to fund public education properly and the public is okay with this? If you have not noticed, in the past few years we have lost over 1000 teachers and not to retirement. Some of our best have gone to other counties, other states, and left the profession all together. The young teachers are leaving by their 7th year and have lost all hope. The county brags about the CRCT scores but the state has lowered the bar so it is embarrassing. A score of 800 means your child only knows 50% of the curriculum taught. Get a clue folks, we are in trouble. Please stop blaming the teachers when our superintendent wants 32-36 in the classroom and the board renewed his contract!
ben h
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June 17, 2013
OK lets solve this whole issue beginning with Michael Hinojosa and Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause.

Unless both of you have walked in today's teacher's environment with the mounds of paperwork, parents who could care less about their child, and administrators who stay in their office. Do it for 2 weeks bet you will not last 2 days.

Sad for students
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June 17, 2013
This past school year we had 30 children in 4th grade classrooms and no room to move. We had to continuously move desks around to have collaborative projects and move students into the hallway to work. It is ridiculous and very sad. This situation will only get worse and no one wants to change the senior exemption or raise the millage rate. You can't continue raising class sizes, lowering salaries and cutting the school year down.
Lib in Cobb
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June 17, 2013
While you are at it CCSD, why don't you cut the classroom supply budget so the teachers who already are taking well over a $1000 per year out of their pockets can dig a little deeper?

BTW, teaching the kids to cut and paste on the smart boards does absolutely nothing for the development of needed motor skills, which are developed when they cut and paste with, scissors, paper and paste. Just how much did those smart boards cost?
anonymous
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June 17, 2013
Just tell teachers to quit spending their own money and see what happens. I bet there are some that would never spend their own money anyway.
cobb teacher
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June 17, 2013
@anonymous, this teacher spent over $4,000 out of her pocket in her classroom this past year. Most of it was spent buying supplies to make my own math curriculum since the school board hasn't seen fit to provide my students with math supplies. How much of your own income did you spend buying supplies for your job?
Michelle sollicito
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July 03, 2013
I want to point out what so many parents don't know. Most teachers, ESP in Cobb, buy their own supplies most of the time out of their own pockets. I recently talked to a retiring teacher who was selling off thousands of dollars worth of classroom materials that she had accumulated over the years. She said she had spent $2000 to $6000 every year on books, games, posters, resources etc. and I could see that was true from all the stuff she was selling. And who was she selling it all to? OTHER TEACHERS!
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