Class Sizes Remain an Issue in East Lansing

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016, 8:11 am
Karessa Wheeler

Above: ELPS Superintendant Robyne Thompson

As students start the second week of school in East Lansing, parents, teachers and administrators continue to keep close eyes on the number of students in several classrooms throughout the District.

New kindergarten parent Kristen Bellar spoke before the Board of Education Monday (9/12/13) about the situation at Glencairn Elementary school where her son is one of 26 students in a class. The maximum size for kindergarten classes is 22 students.

“We have 26 students, some who are not English speaking, some with special needs,” Bellar said. The teacher has been assisted by parents and other volunteers but needs more help, she added. The other kindergarten class at Glencairn has the same number of students.

Superintendent Robyne Thompson said she is checking the enrollment numbers daily and they continue to fluctuate. On Friday, the District had 3,704 students and on Monday, there were 3,680 students.

“We continue to learn of families moving away from the District as well as moving into the District. We hope enrollment with be settled by the official count day in October,” she said.

On Monday, Thompson visited Marble Elementary where there are overcrowded conditions in both 1st and 3rd grades. She met with the 3rd grade teachers who told her they would prefer having paraprofessionals assist them in the classrooms rather than creating a third section of 3rd grade.

“They do not want to split up their classrooms,” Thompson said. “They would prefer parapros.”

Hiring more paraprofessionals seemed to be the preferred solution for the Board as well, but Thompson warned them that it would not be an immediate fix. The District needs to post the job openings for two weeks and then conduct interviews. New paraprofessionals would not be hired until late September or early October.

The cost for a full-time paraprofessional – who serves as a teacher’s aide in the classroom and cannot teach children outside of the teacher’s sight – is between $30,000 and $35,000 per year, said Financial Director Rich Pugh. In addition, teachers whose classrooms exceed the maximum number of students plus two receive extra pay according to their contract with the District.

Trustee Hillary Henderson also shared with the Board that the parents at MacDonald Middle School were concerned about class sizes, claiming that there are 50 more students in the school than last year. She met with the MMS Parent Council Monday, and they requested that the District provide them with a breakdown of the number of students per class, per grade and whether they were residential or non-residential (Schools of Choice) students. Henderson reported that Middle School Principal Amy Martin said class sizes were an average of 27 students.

Trustee Erin Graham noted that while several Marble parents have approached her about class size, the problems are only in a few classes District-wide.

“I think that is commendable,” she said.

Trustee Yasmina Bouraoui said the Board has been trying to have discussions about increasing the overall space for classrooms but has met with resistance from the community, which fought a recent proposal to reopen the closed Red Cedar School.

“This is exactly as we predicted and we got pushback from the community,” said Trustee Kath Edsall. “We raised this issue in the spring and considered moving neighborhood kids into that building and there was pushback. We are now there and it’s like ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t.’”

Thompson also requested the Board discuss the issue of allowing what are called “permeable boundary” requests, which allow parents within the East Lansing School District to enroll their children in schools other than their neighborhood school. Thompson said historically, these spots have been rarely allowed and only in specific cases where a family had an issue such as daycare.

“(Permeable boundary requests) have grown exponentially over the years. We need to look at where we are and how we manage that going forward. Families using PBs to go back and forth between schools have created problems as recently as last week,” Thompson said. “PBs need to be a big part of the conversation.”

Parent Sarah Comstock suggested the Board needs to create a data report showing historic enrollment trends since 1996 to help them understand the fluctuating enrollment numbers.

“If we look back 10-20 years, we can get a handle on that fluctuation,” she said. “We need to take a data-driven approach so we can all see what is going on here.”

In other action, the Board unanimously approved sending a letter to the State Board of Education in support of the State Board’s revised “Statement and Guidance on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Students.” The State Board revised its statement on Aug. 30 to “recognize the difficulties many of our more marginalized students face” and offers many suggestions to public school districts for providing a safe, inclusive and supporting learning environment, the letter reads.


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