District 201 board split on increasing class sizes at Miller School

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT

WESTMONT — A decision by the Community Unit School District 201 Board of Education to double the size of two classes for the upcoming school year at Miller Elementary School in Westmont has some board members and parents up in arms.

Board members voted 4-3 at their March 19 School Board meeting to eliminate one section of classes for the incoming second- and third-grade classrooms at Miller for the 2013-14 school year, having only one class of 25 studnets for the two grade levels at the school. Each level has two differnet classes, or sections, for the grade levels. The vote was part of an overall discussion on staffing levels for the district for the upcoming school year.

The move was done as part of a plan to help balance class sizes at Miller and Manning Elementary School and to spread teaching and staff resources where they are needed elsewhere in the district, School Board President Marie Charlton said.

According to a memo released by District 201, the district is projecting class sizes of 25 students at Miller each for both second and third grade for the 2013-14 school year. Rather than have two classrooms of each grade level with only 12 children, the vote means the two grades will now each have one class of 25 students each.

"it just isn't economically feasible to have two classes at each grade level with an average class size of 12.5 students," Charlton said. "By combining the two classes at each level, we a re making better use of resources."

The action was part of discussion the board has had over the past few years regarding the sizes of classes between the two schools with Manning having much larger class sizes than Miller has since the closing of South School several years ago, due mainly to the lack of facilities to adjust class sizes. The district last year moved the District 201 Administrative Offices out of Manning and relocated them to a reopened South School to free up classroom space.

Charlton, who voted in favor of the class size increase, said the district approved new guidelines for class sizes last fall based on the new classroom space and that the action at last week's meeting is part of plan to address crowded classroom and move staff to where they are better needed.

And at least one parent who has a child at Miller is against the increase in class sizes.

Dan Szynal has a third-grader in Miller and another child who is a special-needs student, who will be going into first grade at Miller next year. He said Miller is the school with the greatest risk of students who can experience the greatest achievement gap in the district due to its Title 1 status based on the number of low-income students.

"Despite running surpluses, the board voted to increase the class sizes, justifying the vote on equality, rather than working to reduce Manning class sizes, thereby punitively applying an draconian cut to minority and disadvantaged students," Szynal said. "In their zeal for fairness, the members who voted for this have actually voted unjustly, making an already difficult situation worse."

The board vote on March 19 will relocate two teacher postions from Miller due to a second- and a third-grade classes being cut. Charlton said one of the teachers is retiring, and the other will be relocated elsewhere within the dirtcit.

"No teachers were fired as result of this," Charlton said. "The action means those postions will be moved where they are needed based on staff recommendations."

Board member Shannon Hancock, who voted against the staffing decision, said she doesn't feel comfortable with doubling the class sizes of the younger students while preserving high teacher-to-studnet ratio's at Manning school. She also believes there are achievement gaps between Miller and Manning School with Miller, a Title 1 school, having lower scores than Manning, and that doubling class sizes is not a good idea.

"Doubling the class size for a 7 year old, who is already behind on an achievement level based on standardized testing, I just don't see what that accomplishes," Hancock said. "I can't support it."

Charlton said the district does have a surplus of funds for the year, and could use teachers aids to help offset the increase of the class sizes as Miller, based on administrative recommendations.

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