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Fees unlikely to help class sizes

7/15/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Class sizes at Hays USD 489 aren't likely to get any smaller, and increased fees probably won't pay for more teachers.

At Monday night's work session, the board of education discussed using money from the fee increase they approved in May to hire elementary teachers to reduce some class sizes.

Curriculum Director Shanna Dinkel said three classes are priorities for district administrators -- third grades at Wilson Elementary School and Lincoln Elementary School, and fourth grades at O'Loughlin Elementary School.

The third-grade classes at Wilson have 26 students, "which is not ideal, but overall the third grade class size district-wide is 22.3. So those parents know their other options and have chosen to keep those students there."

The third-grade class at Lincoln was 28, and there are 28 students in the O'Loughlin fourth grade. Overall fourth-grade class size for the district is 22.9.

The board increased workbook/materials fees by $60 for a total of $160, activity fees for students in grades six to 12 by $50 for a total of $66 for Hays High School students and $62 for Hays Middle School students.

A new fee of $150 per kindergarten student also was approved.

Superintendent Dean Katt earlier estimated it would cost $150,000 to hire three elementary teachers, and he doesn't recommend using the fee increase for that.

Students don't enroll until August, and there might be changes in class sizes, he said.

"We really need to wait until August enrollment comes because those numbers are not real numbers," Dinkel said.

"One thing we can do is look and see where we are at the beginning (of school) at hiring a teacher's aide, if the need arises to do that," Katt said. "Looking at our budget, it's going to be tighter than all get out. With where we are now, I think we could look at a teacher aide."

"With an aide, we're not nearly as tied down as (with) a teacher," said Marty Patterson, board vice president.

Katt said an aide can move to a different grade level as needed.

Dinkel said teachers and administrators have begun to talk about instruction options for larger class sizes, such as reading groups based on skill level.

"Teachers have already started planning for the larger class sizes," O'Loughlin Principal Nancy Harman said. "We have started the preliminary plans to just make the classrooms work. The size of having that many desks in the classroom, it's a big group."

Dinkel said when the district has had teaching vacancies recently, "we have not had strong candidates."

"That's not to say the ones (we) hired won't do a great job," she said. "I think they'll do a great job, but the pool is very slim."

The board should consider whether "hiring someone who's not a strong candidate just to have a small class size is worth it, or can we do some things to support the veteran teacher that we know is strong?" Dinkel said.

Timing has a lot to do with the number and quality of candidates, Dinkel said.

Many have taken jobs elsewhere and have a buy-out to leave their district.

Katt told the board at last week's meeting money collected for workbook and material fees shouldn't be used for salaries, but "it'll pay for classroom supplies that it would offset."

"The textbook fund isn't just to build a fund to purchase textbooks," he said. "It's a revolving fund that you can pay for supplies, consumables. That's what will offset what's been coming out of the general fund."

"We said we were going to increase fees to fund that situation (reducing class sizes) if the LOB (local option budget) didn't pass," Sarah Rankin said. "Now we're not going to fund those positions, but we're talking about leaving those fees the same, and I am uncomfortable with that."

Board members Josh Waddell and Danielle Lang were absent.