Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

October 9, 2012

Class sizes worry board members

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — The Knoxville School Board was provided a list of classes, including the number of students in each class section, prior to Monday's regular board meeting. Some of the class sizes are making board members nervous. 

KHS Principal Kevin Crawford opened the discussion by telling the board that if schedule changes were not made in August, the schedule would work out perfectly at the high school. Changes are made, and students need to make adjustments. Plans are set aside to accommodate the students to meet their needs. 

Director Tim McDonald questioned the number of course titles offered at KHS, which number at 157.

"We don't take the course out if someone doesn't enroll," Crawford said. Nevertheless, as the discussion continued, the number of course offerings was an issue raised again by McDonald. With the importance that is placed on a child's ability to be proficient in reading by third grade, McDonald wonders if there is too much emphasis on high school classes. 

Some of the higher student counts in class sections can be attributed to budget cuts in recent years. Fewer teachers can naturally lead to larger class sections. The board would like to examine options to improve class size numbers, despite having fewer educators available. 

KMS Principal Brian McNeill explained to the board that his students are divided into classes, based upon achievement level. Board President Leslie Miller was concerned about this process, as most students fall into the middle, and may get lost in the shuffle. She does not want these students to miss out on opportunities because of test scores.

"There's got to be a better way to do this," McDonald added. 

"Sometimes, putting a body in there isn't the answer," Superintendent Randy Flack added. 

McDonald suggested the budget committee meet earlier than planned, to focus early discussions on how to address class size issues. 

"We need to staff what we need," McDonald said. He feels it might also be time to cut the number of electives offered in the high school. 

"I think it's worth working on," McDonald said. 

Budgeting will be tougher this year, as Flack expects the district to have a net loss of 46 students enrolled, with 70 fewer in the seats. (Others are counted for Knoxville if they open-enroll to other schools. Look for more on enrollment in a related article.)

As for the elementary schools, Northstar Principal John Keitges said he and West Elementary Principal Mike Montgomery try to keep the number of students per section in kindergarten through second grade as small as possible. More sections are created for younger children, and there are no more rooms available at West or Northstar. 

The elementary schools have also had a reading specialist available in recent years, following the passage of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which paid the costs of this position. ARRA funds are gone. 

"That will be a tough loss," Keitges said. 

Look for more on the school board in the Oct. 12 Journal-Express.