Elementary class sizes may decrease

Strawberry Park, Soda Creek may have fewer students per class

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— Class sizes at Steamboat Springs' two elementary schools could decrease in the 2003-04 school year.

Class sizes may depend on whether the Educational Excellence Commission and its parent group, the Education Fund Board, grant funding for a proposal, authored by the school district's administration team.

The administration team's proposal seeks to adjust the class size formula for elementary schools, but it will not change the formula for middle school or high school classes.

The current formula mandates an average student-to-teacher ratio of 19-to-1 from kindergarten through fourth grade.

Because the formula is an average, some elementary classes can -- and have -- had far more than 19 students.

Such was the case earlier this year when a group of Strawberry Park Elementary School parents complained to the school district about fourth-grade class sizes at the school.

In responses to the complaints, an additional teacher was provided for both Strawberry Park and Soda Creek Elementary Schools through the Educational Excellence Commission's two-teacher reserve fund.

The new formula agreed to by the administrative team would establish a maximum of 17 students-per-class for kindergarten and 20 students-per-class for grades one through five.

The new policy, if funded, comes with a price tag.

The administration team estimates two more elementary school teachers will be needed to meet these maximum class size recommendations, in addition to retaining the two teachers hired earlier this year for Strawberry Park and Soda Creek.

The four teachers will cost the district $196,000.

Mike Loomis, the parent of two Strawberry Park students and a member of the Educational Excellence Commission, said such a proposal would be an improvement from the existing class size formula.

"To me, 20-to-1 is pretty acceptable for some of those grades," Loomis said. "If they're looking at having a maximum of 20 in each grade, that's a lot better than an average."

Superintendent Cyndy Simms, a member of the administration team, warned a long road to funding the policy still lies ahead.

"We are hopeful, but we don't know," Simms said. "It's just the very beginning of the process."

Simms said the school district couldn't afford to fund the proposed policy. Without funding from the Education Fund Board, the policy won't be implemented, Simms said.

The EFB, which handles and allocates revenue collected from the city's half-cent sales tax, must decide how to allocate its funds by March 26. The Educational Excellence Commission is a nine-member committee established by the EFB to recommend funding for class size, pay-for-performance and content standards, among others.

If the EEC decides to fund the administration team's new proposal, the EFB then has the authority to concur with the EEC's decision or cut the funding needed to adopt the new class size formula.

Still up for debate is the ambiguous question of how small is small enough when it comes to class size and whether there are better ways to spend school money to improve education.

School board president Paul Fisher said research shows class size has a profound impact in lower grades but less of an impact in middle school and high school.

"We do have small class sizes in this district" as compared to other districts in the state, Fisher said. "We're still seeing continuous improvement in grades."

Fisher and Simms said having quality teachers in the school district is more important than smaller classes.

"Research will tell you the first thing is good preschool, then good teachers," Fisher said. "Then down the line a little bit comes class size. That's not the board saying it, that's research. We're going to be driven by good research and good data. We constantly seek out the current data."

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