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School board asks for potential class size increase

POSTED: June 7, 2012 11:18 p.m.

The Effingham County Board of Education has approved a resolution allowing for slightly bigger class sizes next year — if necessary.

Increasing the number of students in some classes is one way the school district has dealt with recent budget constraints due to decreases in state funding and local property tax revenue. The resolution now goes to the state board of education to grant an exemption on class size maximums.

"Certainly we don’t want to go too high in our numbers," said Superintendent Randy Shearouse, "but if, for example, we were to receive 200 more students to start next year, this would allow us to be able to absorb those through just putting a few extra kids in classes."

While school officials do not expect much enrollment growth for 2012-13, the resolution would give the district "some insurance" for any changes throughout the school year, according to Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff.

It would allow the school district to increase by two the maximum number of students in any class — for example, from 26 to 28 for any classes in grades 2-3, or from 35 to 37 for each English, math, science or social studies class for grades 9-12.

"By increasing (the maximum for) every class by two," Arnsdorff said, "if you get one more child, you don’t have to reorganize the whole grade level, move children around in February, or hire another teacher."

Shearouse pointed out that, while some classes were larger than others this past year, the average class sizes in all grades throughout the school system "were well within line and don’t appear to be excessive in any area."

Shearouse shared figures from the 2011-12 school year, showing that classes in first, second and third grades averaged 19 students. The average was 21 for fourth- and fifth-grade classes and 20 for sixth grade.

At the middle school level, the average class size was 21 for seventh grade and 20 foreighth. High school average class sizes ranged from 17 for 12th grade to 21 for ninth grade.

"We don’t predict that to change a great deal," Shearouse said.

Increases in class size have gone hand-in-hand with the school board eliminating or not filling some teaching positions to save money. The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $2 million in cuts in salaries and benefits compared to the current budget.

The board of education will also raise the millage rate to 16.897 after keeping it at 15.333 for three straight years. However, the millage hike will not generate any additional revenue for the school system, because of a sharp decrease in the county’s property tax digest.

To illustrate, Shearouse showed statistics from the Effingham County Tax Assessor’s Office indicating that, of the 27,027 parcels of property in the county, more than 20,000 decreased in value this year — including nearly 17,000 by 10 percent or more.

"The reason we cut it off at 10 percent was because that’s the magic number that you wouldn’t pay any more money in school taxes with the (millage) roll-up," Shearouse said.

The school system faces a budget shortfall that it plans to offset with funds remaining from the current special purpose local option sales tax for education (E-SPLOST), which expires June 30. The latest projection is to transfer $1.9 million from the approximately $4 million in the SPLOST budget.

The school board plans to finalize and formally adopt the FY 2013 budget at its June 21 meeting at 7 p.m. The public is welcome to comment on the budget prior to the vote.

"The good news is, we can make the budget work. And it does balance," Shearouse said.

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