This school year, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers have been responsible for educating larger groups of students in their classrooms than in previous years.
The 2014-15 school year District Class Size Enrollment report has revealed an increase in class size, meaning a higher pupil-teacher ratio.
Interim Superintendent Sean Dusek presented the report to the board of education during a Dec. 1 work session, prompting a discussion among board members about sufficient staffing in core classes.
The report breaks down the district’s 44 buildings that house students into four categories. High schools saw on average .2 more students per classroom, middle schools saw 1.3 more students per classroom, elementary schools saw .3 more students per classroom, and the average of small and other schools combined remained the same.
“We made an adjustment, and that’s to be expected, but it wasn’t, in my mind, dramatic,” Dusek said. “Nor should it have been.”
During the presentation, Dusek said it more schools are offering Advanced Placement courses. He attributed the new courses to administrators wanting to better prepare their students for college, and make them more competitive for scholarship opportunities.
Soldotna High School principal Todd Syverson said this year’s reconfiguration, which also included Soldotna Prep School and Skyview Middle School, resulted in more students attending the high school. Staffing increased and consequently more courses were offered, he said.
New courses, including world history, were added to the curriculum, journalism and creative writing are now elective options in the class schedule, Syverson said in a previous Clarion interview.
However, board member Penny Vadla said she noticed worryingly large English and Social Studies class sizes in the report.
“I saw an English class that had thirty students in it, and I really questioned that because that person probably has five English classes, and five English classes times 22 to 30 students is 130 to 150 kids a day,” Vadla said. “An English class is supposed to teach writing, and they cant possibly do that, even if they do peer evaluations, and do it effectively so that these kids are prepared for college.”
Dusek explained that counselors and administrators at individual schools are responsible for scheduling class sizes, and he felt uneasy about advising staff on how many students to put in each classroom. The less frequently offered courses, such as the AP studies, are likely to have larger class sizes to accommodate student interest, he said.
District site councils reported protecting the pupil teacher ratio as the highest priority when asked by the school board for ways to reducing expenditures and increasing revenues this fall, as state funding cuts loom.
“For Kenai Central High School (and other high schools in the district), if the pupil teacher ratio is raised, then programs and diversity in the schedule are sure to suffer,” wrote a site council member in Kenai Central High School’s site council report.
The class size report also includes data on certified full time educators, enrollment and class size average, and is what determines how much funding the Kenai Peninsula Borough receives each fiscal year for education. Pupil-teacher ratio is determined by the previous school year’s enrollment count and projections, according to the class size report.
Inaccurate projections can result in revenue shortfalls, or fail to cover contracts issued for the following school year, according to the report. Classrooms could also be short-staffed and hiring teachers once a school year starts can be a challenge.
“The goal is to be as accurate as possible because more accuracy provides correct levels of staffing and less disruption when school starts in the fall,” Dusek wrote in the class size report.
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