District hired more teachers to keep class sizes in check
The school district hired three new teachers this year after four more students enrolled than the Board of Education anticipated.
For the third straight year the Ridgefield School District hired additional teachers over the summer, in order to keep class sizes within district guidelines, Superintendent Karen Baldwin told The Press.
The three additional teachers — a third-grade teacher at Barlow Mountain, and both a third- and fifth-grade teacher at Veteran’s Park — were not included in the school’s operating budget for the year, Baldwin said.
The hires may require shuffling money in the school budget as the school year goes on.
“We continue to monitor our budget status and will determine if we need to place a freeze on accounts to capture the money needed to pay for the additional elementary teachers,” she said.
She did not say what accounts might be frozen.
In total, the district enrolled 4,927 students; four more than expected. A breakdown of enrollments across the town’s six elementary schools, provided in the superintendent’s report, also reveals only four students more than anticipated.
So why the need for three more teachers to handle four more students? Without the extra staff, classes would have run over the maximum size allowed by the district. The board restricts third-fifth grades to 25 students per class.
Taking the fifth-grade position at Veteran’s Park as an example, one teacher would have been responsible for 27 students if the school had not hired an additional teacher .
When asked about the need for the extra staff, Baldwin said the guidelines for district class sizes support “safe and personalized learning environments for all students.”
Some board members saw a silver lining in the hires.
“If you look at these class sizes— these are really enviable,” school board member Doug Silver said at the Aug. 28 meeting. “I was really pleased to see this, I think this is a great first step for the year.”
Indeed, with the additional teacher on staff, Veteran’s Park now boasts an average fifth-grade class size of 17.7 students, according to Baldwin’s report.
It’s worth noting the rise in registered students over projection is not really a rise, but actually a slightly less precipitous net loss in enrollments.
Board of Education Chairman Fran Walton put the situation bluntly: “We have lost 167 students,” she said at the school board meeting Aug. 28. “When people hear that we’ve gained students, what that really means is that we’re holding students.”
The district guessed that it would have fewer students in each grade than actually ended up enrolling. So, in order to keep class sizes small, the town had to hire additional staff to distribute the unanticipated influx of students.
Baldwin said the district is not yet done hiring.
“At present we have three certified vacancies left to fill and we are working with an agency to support our needs,” said Baldwin.