“The board isn’t lifting a finger or conducting much effort to figure out solutions,” said Bill Hable of east Cobb. “It’s just frustrating the more I talk about it. I would like to bring it to someone who has authority, bring it to the board’s attention and find out what they will do to ease up on class sizes.”
Hable has a daughter in fifth grade, Maryann, and a daughter in first grade, Christian, who both attend Eastside Elementary. He and his wife, Jue Li, moved to Marietta from Memphis, Tenn., three years ago.
“We just love this area, and I think this is the first negative thing that we’ve experienced,” he said.
Hable said he was shocked to learn that the teacher in his daughter’s 32-student class didn’t have a parapro.
“How can a teacher possibly ensure that these students are getting the attention they deserve?” he said. “There’s no way in any practical sense that my daughter is going to get the attention that my daughter needs, and what’s worse, I feel that this is the way it’s going to be going forward.”
He said he wouldn’t vote for a potential SPLOST IV if it didn’t have funds earmarked for smaller classes.
“I’d usually be for that, but why should I go and vote for a SPLOST if no money in that fund is going to be used to reduce class sizes?” he said.
Hable said he was willing to pay higher taxes to guarantee that his daughters will have a lower class size but said most people would probably not agree with him.
Hable said he’s also reached out to school board chair Scott Sweeney, who represents his area.
“I’m sure he’s angry too, but I don’t see any public statements or influence from him,” he said. “What are my leaders planning on doing? What are they doing to fix the problem?”
Sweeney said he had talked to Hable but that he didn’t know about the petition.
While most of the board members have heard complaints about class sizes, the district has exhausted its teacher allotments, Sweeney said.
“I learned (Wednesday) that there are approximately 1,000 more students enrolled this year than last,” Sweeney said.
David Banks, who represents northeast Cobb and raised the issue of class sizes during budget discussions last spring, said that while he hasn’t received any inquiries about class sizes, he believes they need to find a way to make them smaller.
“The more you have in the class, the less minutes you have per student to answer their questions or address whatever issues they might have,” he said.
Board member Lynnda Eagle said she learned about this year’s larger class sizes by visiting schools in her northwest Cobb post.
“I always go in at the beginning of the year and ask principals to go down and see the largest classrooms,” she said. “It appears we are really seeing some larger class sizes in our middle schools.”
Eagle said the only thing that could ease overcrowding is money.
West-central Cobb’s representative, Alison Bartlett, agreed with Eagle.
“It comes down to money and the state not funding public education,” she said.
Jay Dillon, a spokesman with the district, said that Cobb Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa and many of his senior staff members were out of the office for training Thursday, but said they are aware of classes throughout the district being larger than they would like.
Echoing Bartlett’s statements, Dillon said state funding forced the district to cut nearly 1,400 teachers in the past four years. The district went from 8,477 teachers in 2008 to 7,039 in 2012, a drop of 17 percent. At the same time, enrollment dropped slightly, from 106,747 in 2008 to 105,154 in 2012, a change of just over 1 percent.
“Reducing teaching positions has saved the district tens of millions of dollars, but it has also resulted in larger class sizes,” he said.
Student-to-teacher ratios were established in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget, but Dillon reiterated that these are only averages and that classes could still have more or less than the number allotted.
“We are aware of some classes that are unacceptably high, especially in middle schools,” he said. “Several middle schools currently have 38 to 45 students, which is too many.”
Of Cobb’s 25 middle schools, 13 reported having the highest number of students in a classroom. Elementary and high schools are not facing overcrowding problems to the same degree.
“Classes that size are difficult for teachers to manage, present a less-than-ideal learning environment for students and do not meet the expectations of our parents,” Dillon said.
As a way to somewhat resolve this, Hinojosa will be recommending a proposal to the board to hire approximately 30 more teachers at the Sept. 12 work session.
“This proposal is not a cure-all that will return all classrooms to the levels we enjoyed several years ago, but it will fix the worst examples of overcrowded classrooms.”
The board will discuss overcrowding at this month’s work session, which begins at 8:30 a.m. and will be held in the boardroom at 540 Glover St.