An obvious result of the Board of Education's decision to cut personnel has been an increase in class sizes. At Monday night's board meeting, superintendent Jody Barrow said that larger class sizes are likely part of a "new normal."
"I've said privately and publicly, I think the Fayette County Board of Education held off on doing this as long as they could," Barrow said. He pointed out that while it is not ideal that Fayette County has had to get class size waivers from the state, it isn't unique to the district.
"We're in a situation where most districts were three or four years ago with regard to asking for class size waivers," Barrow said.
While the waivers are in place, he also pointed out that the current class size figures are below those maximums, though some are close.
"The Board set a tolerable number which is actually under the state maximum, and we're under that.
There are some areas where we're bumping the lid, for example in some areas where the max is 30 some of our classes have 29. If we compare that to classes that used to be 21 or 22, that's a big increase. But we're within what I would say are acceptable practices within the state," Barrow said.
Some of the enrollment data as well as a chart of elementary level class sizes are available on the board of education website in the documents accompanying the Aug. 19 meeting. The elementary school chart shows a handful of grade levels in various schools that are being "watched" due to relatively high class sizes. The kindergarten level at Spring Hill, with a ratio of 22.3 students per teacher, is on the only grade level or school that is currently above its target maximum.
"Overall I feel pretty good about where we are as a district," Barrow said. "I know the numbers are higher than we would prefer in certain areas. We're trying to be prudent and be careful."
Barrow said there are "a couple different ways" of addressing the hot spots, including potentially adding a teacher or a parapro where needed. He said those decisions would be given some more time, though, so as to prevent "making a fix and have it end up costing money, so that's why we're going to wait a little bit more."
That sentiment was in line with Barrow's previously stated opinion that the board should allow some time for "the dust to settle" before making decisions on expenditures.
Board member Leonard Presberg said that as long as the district stays below its maximums, which were set below the state's maximums, then the larger sizes could be managed.
"I think we've reached a budget point that we can no longer support the smaller class sizes, but given the fact our reserves are larger than we expected we should stay within those targets," Presberg said.
Barrow said that "there are several things" he wants the board to look at, budget wise, but he wants "to do that very cautiously." In particular he says the state legislature's actions during its next session are unpredictable and could have implications for the district's budget.
"I'd like for us to at least wait until we have some picture of the midterm adjustment," Barrow said.
"What I want to be able to do is hopefully after the dust settles and we get an inkling where the state is going with their funding then we could come back and add some things."