Milton School Board OKs temporary fix for class sizes
MILTON The Milton School Board has approved a staffing plan that officials are viewing as a short-term fix for burgeoning class sizes in district elementary schools.
The board Monday approved a recommendation from district administrators to add reading and math specialists and tap existing staff for extra duties as "data managers" at district K-6 schools—some of which are seeing class sizes as high as 29 students, according to district records.
The staffing plan, district administrators say, will be drawn largely from the ranks of district employees, and will free up time for instruction for teachers who are grappling with overloaded classes.
District Director of Instruction Randy Bartels told the school board the plan would allow the district to begin attacking class sizes immediately.
Under a plan approved by the board, the district would:
-- Hire a certified math interventionist to work with students at Northside Intermediate School, which has some class sizes of 29 students, officials have said. The school already has a math coach who works with teachers on math improvement techniques.
-- Hire or appoint an additional reading coach and a reading interventionist for K-3 classrooms district wide. The reading coach will work with elementary school staff on reading improvement techniques and work with students who need extra instructional help.
-- Increase hours for existing paraprofessional staff who could assist with reading and math learning "interventions" for students.
-- Appoint 42 existing staff to as math and literacy "data managers" for each grade level at all district elementary schools. The teachers and other professional staff would act as a clearinghouse for student learning and achievement data that classroom teachers collect to comply with state and federally-mandated learning improvement models, Bartels said.
The plan came from school-level administrators who polled staff and surveyed class sizes and math and reading scores in the elementary schools, Bartels and Milton East Elementary School Principal Theresa Rusch said.
In all, the staffing plan will cost $130,000–about the cost of two full-time, first-year teachers, according to district estimates.
Bartels and Rusch indicated that the "data managers" would be paid extra through a stipend for what is being considered a district "project." Bartels told The Gazette that once the "data managers" set up spreadsheets and databases, their duties would demand fewer than 15 hours a week.
Board president Rob Roy said that some districts have a single "data manager" in charge of handling student data district-wide. He said he likes the idea of tapping a number of staff to focus on individual grade levels.
"It's a great job for somebody who can do a lot with spreadsheets but can't do much else, but they didn't have the guts to fire them," Roy told school administrators at a meeting this week.
The plan is being looked at as a Band-Aid to address the growing number of students and overcrowded classrooms at district elementary schools.
The class size increases come amid cuts to classroom sections over the last year, mainly at Milton East Elementary School and Northside Intermediate.
Rusch calls the plan a "compromise," and Michael Dorn, who is president of the district's teachers union, told the board he considers the staffing plan a "short-term, plug-the-hole-this-year" solution.
Dorn had urged the board earlier this year to add at least one classroom teacher at Northside Intermediate. Monday, he made the same request.
"Probably more classroom teachers would be more effective in the long term," Dorn said.
The district and the board have wanted to avoid hiring more full-time teachers and adding class sections this year. District officials have said they're leery of the additional cost, and administrators, staff and parents have voiced concerns moving students to new classrooms mid-year.
The board has not discussed how it would handle class sizes over the long term, but this week Roy said adding class sections and teachers is "definitely something we should consider for next year."
Board member Wilson Leong talked about the district's lack of a policy for maximum class sizes.
For the second time in the five weeks, Leong hinted at the option of a referendum to ask voters for permission to augment district operating costs—the bulk of which are tied to employee pay and benefits.