Lower enrollments reduce number of elementary school teachers

Fewer students are enrolling in Ridgefield’s nine public schools, which means the schools have eight fewer elementary school teachers than there were five years ago.

The average number of elementary students in any given class is relatively small — out of 102 classes, only two are filled to the maximum capacity set by the school board — so there’s less chance that the schools will have to hire more teachers to break classes.

The news, presented by Personnel Director Karen Dewing during her annual class size report, received an endorsement from the Board of Education at its Nov. 13 meeting.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” said Doug Silver, vice chair of the Board of Education. “How do we bring that out to the taxpayers that this is important? This is what we’re funding and … it’s real. You can see the numbers, it’s real kids, it’s real teachers, you know this is tangible. Something to consider as we go through our budget process — this is really enviable.”

On average, there are a little more than 17 students per kindergarten and first grade class, a little less than 19 in second grade, about 20 in third grade, a little less than 21 in fourth grade, and just under 20 in fifth grade classes.

For the 2018-19 school year, the maximum elementary class sizes are 21 students for kindergarten and first grade, 24 students for second grade, 25 students for grades third through fifth, and 26 students for sixth grade through high school seniors.

“We have a lot of 18-to-21s, which is ideal, just ideal,” Silver said, referring to the class sizes.

“You have a consistent educational experience across your district, which is ideal. That’s luck,” he added.

In addition to providing educational consistency in the different schools and grades, the mid-range classes minimize the possibility of needing to split classes that have grown too large and add teachers.

“When the numbers are 18 to 21 it lowers our risk in the budget,” Silver said. “We don’t worry we’re going to have two students move in and have to break a class.”

“In the elementary schools, they were very, very good in terms of the number of classes that were at maximum,” board Chair Fran Walton told The Press.

As of Oct. 1, there are 1,935 elementary students enrolled across the district — 22 fewer than the schools projected.

Staffing

While the elementary schools have fewer teachers now than they did five years ago, the district also had to hire two elementary school teachers out of budget at Veterans Park and Barlow Mountain, after more students enrolled than were projected last November.

“Budgeting for additional elementary school teachers for classes that exceed class size guidelines will need to be a budgetary consideration,” Dewing said in her presentation to the board.

She said the the schools also hired a third special education teacher out of budget, and six paraeducators out of budget for special education staffing.

Board member Carina Borgia-Drake asked about the number of students with special education needs, but Dewing said the full caseload has not yet been compiled into a full report. That will be presented at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting, Interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote said.

Middle schools, high school

Average class sizes were also low at the district’s two middle schools, where 1,201 total students are enrolled — five fewer than projected.

Class-size averages ranged from a high of nearly 25 students in sixth grade social studies at Scotts Ridge to just under 21 students in eighth grade math at East Ridge.

Dewing noted in her report that the board will have to consider the number of teachers needed for eighth grade at East Ridge as enrollment is projected to continue to decline.

At the high school, which enrolled 1,629 students — 12 fewer than projected — class sizes are also low.

On average, science classes hold just over 19 students, math classes hold a little more than 19 students, English classes hold just over 20 students, and social studies classes hold a little under 21 students.

“Staffing at the high school is dependent on student course requests,” said Dewing. “Fluctuations occur each year as the demand for courses change each year.”

Walton said the board will have to make “difficult choices” when it comes to elective courses that hold only a handful of students.

Dewing said the high school typically makes exceptions for very small classes that allow students to finish out an area of study. But with more enrollment decline on the horizon, Walton said the school can’t support a large number of small classes.

“There has to be some constraints with minimum class sizes,” she said.

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