Construction, planning trump class size issue

Parents concerned about class sizes could see a district-sponsored task force addressing the issue in the fall, members of the Ashland School Board said at a work session Monday night. Even with a task force, very few, if any, options are available to the board to lower class sizes, Superintendent Juli Di Chiro told parents.

"I don't think we can respond to the class size issue without additional state funds," she said. "It's going to require some sacrifices to get through next year."

With upcoming construction projects and strategic planning, administrators do not have extra time to serve on a class size task force, and classroom space will be further limited when Bellview Elementary students are housed in the middle school next year, she said.

In terms of funding, Di Chiro calculated an additional $500,000 would be required each year to meet class size standards established in the Ashland Quality Education Model, the goal parents would like the board to reach &

18 for kindergarten and first grade, 20 for second and third grade, and 22 for fourth and fifth grades.

Because state funding has dropped with enrollment declines, the district has had to make budget cuts nearly every year during Di Chiro's tenure, she said. Eighty-five percent of the budget goes toward staff salaries and benefits, leaving little room to hire more teachers to reduce class size. Instead, she said, the district has chosen to focus on improving teacher quality.

High frustration

After hearing the board's perspective on reducing class size, parents said they felt dissatisfied with the board's seeming unwillingness to work with them.

"My understanding was we were here to reduce class sizes," Bellview parent Kim Freeman told the board. "What I'm getting instead is we are being told there is no money to do that. This is the second time I feel like I've been told how things are going to be."

Parents with students in the largest classes &

the apparent "blip" in the second grade &

said the seriousness of their situation was being overlooked.

"It is frustrating to be in that blip because we're going to be in that group that is always making sacrifices," said Alan Parowski, who has two sons at Helman Elementary, including one in second grade.

Despite school officials declaring extremely limited funds, parents said they would like the district's spending reevaluated.

"There are choices to be made," said parent Amy Clark. "They're hard, but we need to figure out how to best allocate the dollars."

Finding solutions

Board members said the ability to think creatively and prioritize were key to finding a solution. Some suggested mobilizing more volunteers or reducing other programs.

"The thing you don't hear very often is 'What are you willing to give up?'" board member Keith Massie asked. "Are we willing to give up music, even partially? Are we willing to give up art? Are we willing to give up six classroom days?"

Although shortening the school year is not a legal option, making cuts or increasing community involvement through volunteers are ideas parents could explore in an independent study session until next fall. Parents also expressed interest in getting more involved in the budgeting process and the Ashland Schools Foundation fundraising drive.

Although several parents left still frustrated, board members encouraged parents not to give up.

"Hearing you all is so hopeful," said board member Ruth Alexander. "Every couple of years there's a group of parents that comes along to do something, and it takes a while, but they do it."

Board member Heidi Parker said she firmly believes class sizes need to decrease even with so little money available.

"I don't know how we're going to do that, but I'm committed to trying."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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