JCPS proposal would increase class sizes at some schools in 2016 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS proposal would increase class sizes at some schools in 2016-17

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools officials want to increase class sizes across the district in order to reallocate teachers to programs and schools that are in need of greater support.

The proposal, discussed during a 2016-17 draft budget work session with the Jefferson County Board of Education on Monday, could potentially shift approximately 280 teachers and mean more students in 4-12th grade classrooms, said Tom Hudson, the district's new chief business officer.

JCPS has been "more generous than what the state recommends" when it comes to class sizes, Hudson said.

"It's about $17.5 million that will be available for us to use on other things," he said. "We are taking these teachers and re-purposing them in a way that is more effective than just using the standard allocation."

Superintendent Donna Hargens noted that the goal of the proposal is not to save money, but to "deploy teachers where we need them the most."

"It's teachers in different places...where by research they can make the most impact," Hargens said. "It's redeploying, not eliminating."

She added that the ratios are in compliance with both the state's requirements and the district's contract with the Jefferson County Teachers Association. 

The proposal would keep class sizes capped at one teacher per 24 students in grades K-3, but it could increase across all other grades:

  • 4th grade would increase from 24-1 to 28-1 
  • 5th grade would increase from 24-1 to 29-1
  • 6th grade would increase from  28-1 to 29-1
  • 7th-12th grades would increase from 28-1 to 31-1

Hudson says the process will require "a lot of intensive work with a lot of people crying and moaning."

"Everybody is going to want more and sometimes the answer is no," he said. "Show us the data about why you think you need it."

[CLICK HERE to listen to audio of the 30-minute JCPS school board work session on the 2016-17 draft budget]

Research shows "no negative impact on learning, but it does have impact on teacher workload," and officials will consider modifying the teacher allocations on a case-by-case basis, Hudson said.

"This will essentially be our starting point," he said. "Schools will be able to come to us and say this won't work for for us...but they will have to make an explicit case about what they need and they will have to justify their request with data rather than anecdotal history."

Principals have not yet been told about the proposal to change to the class size allocation formula, will be brought back to the board for approval on Jan. 11. Schools will receive their allocations on Feb. 2, Hardin said.

"We wanted to get some indication from the board of whether or not we should proceed with this," she said, adding that the board may decide in January that "this is not what they want to do."

Several board members said Monday they were OK with proceeding, but urged officials to do so with caution.

Linda Duncan, a board member who represents District 5 in southern Jefferson County, urged officials to remember that the reason why JCPS allocations are different than those across the state is because the district serves a different population of students.

"When you say one more student, you are talking about kids who don't speak English," she said. "One or two more kids...will make a difference, we need to back up and make sure we are serving our kids."

Hargens agreed with Duncan's argument, saying that this proposal will give the district more flexibility and options.

"Some of these teachers may be sent directly to support ESL students," Hargens said. "We will target where the need is. You will get smaller ratios in the places that need it the most."

Diane Porter, a school board member who represents District 1 in western Jefferson County, said she's "happy to look at district data," but that officials need to look beyond that to see what is needed in schools.

"I'm more excited when I go in schools and can tell that small class sizes may be needed in school A and B but not S and T," Porter said. "I hope we don't get into the bind of, 'This is what works based on the data.' "

In addition to historically keeping class sizes below the state's recommendation, JCPS also has four middle schools (Frost, Olmsted Academy North, Olmsted Academy South and Western) and eleven elementary schools (Breckinridge-Franklin, Cane Run, Coral Ridge, Crums Lane, Engelhard, Frayser, Hazelwood, Maupin, Portland, Slaughter and Wheatley) that are given additional money from the district for those smaller classes.

Hudson said those schools would not be affected by this proposal, but added that JCPS staff will be examining the use of all add-on funds, which means those schools will also have to justify the impact they have had on student achievement.

The current year's budget is $1.4 billion, with $1.1 billion being funded by the general fund. 

The 2016-17 draft budget will be up for school board approval on Jan. 24.

District-level meetings with Hargens and her staff will take place through April, which is when new budget requests, if any, are added to the tentative budget which be up for board approval in May. 

The final working budget is not expected to be approved until September.

Brent McKim, president of JCTA, told WDRB on Wednesday that his organization has received a "very brief preliminary briefing" about the proposal on Tuesday. 

He shared this message with JCTA members:

Based on the information JCTA received, our understanding is that the plan would allocate essentially only enough site-based funding to schools to allow schools to comply with state law and our contract in terms of class size and would not fund most "add-on” positions. Schools will then have to provided rationale for additional funding requests so district resources can be allocated where they are most needed. The district asserts that these changes will shift resources within the district but they believe the changes may well not reduce the total number of classroom teachers, and if the plan is successful in reducing the number of teachers converted from instructional positions to non-instructional positions, it may even increase the number of actual classroom teachers. They also see this as a way to shift resources and teaching positions to schools that need the most support.

JCTA has long advocated against increasing class size by converting instructional positions to new non-instructional positions, and the Association has called for providing additional resources at our struggling schools to help them succeed; however, the Association has advised the district leadership that the way this plan attempts to address these issues may not be received well by our members, especially since the plan is being described by the media as a plan to increase class size for teachers, rather than as a procedural funding and resource allocation issue. JCTA also pointed out to the district that the reason schools are converting instructional positions to non-instructional positions is to handle all the extra bureaucracy and paperwork associated with the out-of-control data demands from central office and if JCPS tries to eliminate these non-instructional positions without addressing the root cause of central office data demands, the plan will be fatally flawed.

The new JCPS Chief Business Officer, Tom Hudson, has agreed to present the plan to the JCTA Board at its January 14 all-day meeting and address questions and concerns. The Association should be able to provide more detailed information following this meeting.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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