Cobb class sizes could shrink — by 1 student

Cheryl Hungerford

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MARIETTA — Some classrooms in Cobb may decrease by one student next year without hiring additional teachers, but class sizes are likely to still be higher than the state maximum.

Deputy Superintendent Cheryl Hungerford told the Cobb Board of Education on Wednesday it’s possible to decrease class sizes by one student in general education courses.

Hungerford said the district could drop one student in each class by changing its contingency plan for schools that may have circumstances changed unexpectedly, such as an unforeseen spike in enrollment.

The number of students per teacher have historically been determined by a formula and assigned to schools, Hungerford said. After the initial allotment was given, administrators often gave schools additional teaching positions out of a contingency pool.

Hungerford’s plan would use a larger number of contingency allotments in its initial calculations and decrease the need to adjust positions after the fact.

“By incorporating a greater number of these contingency allotments into the formulas on the front end, we could decrease our pupil/teacher ratios by one in elementary intermediate grades, middle school, and high school,” Hungerford said.

No additional teachers would be hired.

Classes likely still large

Still, classrooms in Cobb are likely to be over the limit set by the Georgia Department of Education on how many students are allowed to be taught within public classrooms.

High school math, English, social studies, science and foreign language classes can have a maximum of 32 students per classroom. In middle school, the maximum is 28 students. For grades four and five, it is also 28 students. Grades one through three are set at 21 students, and kindergarten is 18 students.

Hungerford’s proposal would allot 24 students in a kindergarten class and 25 students in classrooms for first through third grades, the same sizes used this year. Fourth- and fifth-grade rooms would have a 31-student allotment, 32 students in middle school classes, and 34 in high school classes all of which are down one student from the current school year.

Actual class sizes would vary individually, Hungerford said.

The state education department passed a resolution in February allowing local school districts to apply for waivers to fill classrooms with more students than the state allows, giving districts facing budgetary woes the option to keep the number of teachers the same, but fill classrooms with more students.

Cobb has received waivers before, first putting five extra students in classrooms and last year getting permission to have eight additional students.

Marietta City Schools can set its own class sizes because the district is a charter system. 

Chair concerned about proposal

School board Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci says she fears Hungerford’s proposal could negatively impact arts, music and English classes for speakers of other languages.

“I’m very concerned that we will lose music educators, art teachers,” Angelucci said.

No action was taken Tuesday, and final decisions will be tied to next year’s budget, which has not been adopted yet.

Angelucci said the highest priority for the school board is lowering class sizes, not maintaining the status quo.

“We’re getting ready to make a decision that could seriously affect our budget, our classes and our teachers,” Angelucci said.

The proposal presented Tuesday also gives principals more flexibility in how they staff schools. Principals would be able to exchange a teaching position for other school positions if they saw fit and were still able to meet the students’ needs.

Principals could exchange a teaching position for a counselor, media specialist, school leadership intern or social worker. A half-day teaching position could become a paraprofessional, secretary or nurse.

Hungerford said that’s because schools have varying needs. A school with a high transient population may need more secretaries while others may desire more nurses or social workers.

Also, teachers who want to explore pursuing an administrative position could spend one year as a school leadership intern, learning the role of an assistant principal while still receiving their teaching salary. At the end of the year, they could opt to return to the classroom or apply for available assistant principal positions across Cobb.

More cash could come down from state

School board members will take up a budget next month that could include no teacher furlough days and a full school year, schools Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson told the board Tuesday.

“I fully anticipate bringing to the board a very good looking budget next month,” Johnson said.

Nothing is final until Gov. Nathan Deal signs a budget, and lawmakers are weeks away from sending one to his desk, but Johnson said Cobb could be in for extra cash from the state.

If Deal’s proposed budget is approved, Johnson said an estimated $30 million could trickle down to the school district, which could help to balance the district’s 2014-15 school year budget, which Johnson has previously predicted might fall short by up to $79 million.

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