Class size up for discussion

School Board may revise wording of the policy

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The issue of class size has been a contentious one in the Steamboat Springs School District in recent years, and that probably won't change anytime soon.

The Steamboat Springs School Board will discuss the wording of its class-size policy at today's study session and may seek to revise the policy at a future meeting to emphasize that classes don't need to be smaller than 20 students per teacher.

Current board policy stipulates that the ratio of certified staff to kindergarten through 12th grade student population be no greater than an average of 20 to 1, as long as the Education Fund Board continues to provide at least $350,000 annually to help maintain such levels.

Two problems have arisen as a result of the wording of the policy, board President Paula Stephenson said last week. The first, a copy oversight, is that the policy needs to read one teacher to 20 students instead of 20 teachers to one student, as it currently states.

The second problem, Stephenson said, is that the wording "no greater than" has been interpreted by some district administrators to mean a ratio of less than 20 students per teacher meets the intent of the policy.

In the wake of declining enrollment and pending budget cuts, Stephenson said she believes it's the board's intent to keep the policy at a ratio of 20-to-1 and not to fund teachers in an effort to decrease that ratio.

"Given the discussions we've had around small class size since (the policy was last revised) I think it's the board's intent to keep it at 20-to-1," Stephenson said.

However, she said the board's discussion today should be inclusive of all points of view and the board should be open to any revisions. For one, the policy may need to be broken down to specify acceptable ratios for different grade levels.

"I'm sure it will be a very intricate discussion," Stephenson said. "I would imagine this policy could come out very differently than it is worded now."

The district administrative team, comprised of principals, assistant principals and directors, has a class-size policy of its own that uses a smaller ratio than the board's policy.

The class-size issue has stirred considerable debate within the district during the past couple of years. One teacher was hired for both Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools after angry parents complained about large class sizes at a couple of grade levels at the schools almost two years ago.

The issue resurfaced during last year's Education Fund Board budgeting process, when the School Board turned down a Fund Board gift of three elementary school teachers for the purpose of lowering class sizes. After public outcry and some compromise, the School Board eventually approved a gift of two teachers.

Supporters of smaller class sizes, including the district's two elementary school principals, say lowering the ratio of students per teacher, particularly at the primary grade levels, can make an enormous positive impact on the quality of education received by a child.

Some opponents of continuing to lower class sizes argue that paying better teachers more money while maintaining current class-size levels is best for students. They also say additional teachers hired by the Fund Board to lower class sizes become institutionalized, creating problems in the district's shrinking budget.

The School Board also will discuss its funding priorities for Education Fund monies and a revised mission statement and new vision statement that was created through a series of focus forums hosted by Superintendent Donna Howell during November and December.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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