Class sizes in St. Mary’s County this year remained about the same on average, and are generally manageable, public school officials told the board of education Wednesday, despite some classrooms exceeding established goals and caps.
“I think we really have done an admirable job at keeping class sizes reasonable” after having to reduce the number of teachers two years ago due to budget cuts, board member Cathy Allen said.
Allen said that children “do not come in neat little packages” to have equal class sizes throughout the county. The school system has done a good job managing bubbles in enrollment by adding extra resources in those classrooms, she said.
Superintendent Michael Martirano agreed, saying that the class size numbers presented at the board meeting do not include hundreds of special education teachers and paraeducators throughout the schools.
“All of these are very enviable class sizes,” Scott Smith, director of secondary schools and school improvement, said, adding that they are “some of the best we’ve seen to date.”
Some class size averages actually dipped a bit this year, including the average for grades 3 through 5, which now average just above 22 students per class.
Ranges of actual class sizes, however, showed a different story. Some elementary classes have as many as 29 students, while some middle and high school classes have 33 or 34 students.
At the middle and high school levels, school officials said, the larger classes often are with special subjects such as physical education or foreign languages.
School board chair Sal Raspa said he remembers when he worked in schools and classes would have 40 students. He said he does not expect class sizes to return to that.
“We just have to cope with these things,” Raspa said. “I feel that the commissioners of St. Mary’s County will continue to support our efforts because they know the county is growing and they just want explanations, and we’re good at that.”
The school board established goals and caps years ago for most grade levels. While no one is bound by the targets, officials said that schools do work in creative ways to help manage classes that go over by using extra staff.
“I understand you’re always driven by a moving target” in terms of enrollment, board member Brooke Matthews said.
However, he told school staff to keep in mind “the light at the end of the tunnel,” referring to the new elementary school that is set to open in August 2015 in Leonardtown to help alleviate overcrowding.
The St. Mary’s school board earlier in the meeting approved the new design development documents for the new school.
A contract is expected to be awarded next August with construction to begin immediately after that, school officials said.
Martirano warned that the school board soon will need to include in its budget money for additional staff at the new school.
“How much money [the county commissioners] give us will basically determine our class sizes ... all of this is budget driven,” board member Mary Washington said.
Martirano said that the schools are not provided extra money from the state or county governments as more children move into the system after the first day of school. Schools are funded in part based on enrollments.
“You have to make some trades here,” Marilyn Crosby, board vice chair, said. For instance, she said, in the current year Evergreen Elementary School had to hire an extra assistant principal and counselor to help alleviate the work burden caused by the school’s bulging over-enrollment.
“Where can we shift the money?” to be able to hire more teachers in the budget, Crosby asked.