North Allegheny limits elementary class sizes

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A policy setting limits on North Allegheny elementary class sizes would formalize the administration’s class size guidelines and set a deadline when the number of classroom sections should be determined.

Under the policy, which was adopted May 21, the administration will set the number of sections according to how many students are enrolled 30 days before the first day of school.

At that time, no more than 24 students can be in kindergarten through second grade, 27 students in third grade and 29 students in fourth and fifth grades.

The administration would not be required to add sections if more students enroll after the sections are set.

The district’s class size guidelines are 25 in kindergarten through second grade and 30 in grades three through five.

“The guidelines are not changing,” said Tara Fisher, board vice president. “What changes under this policy is the starting point for the beginning of the school year with respect of how elementary sections are determined.”

The policy, a campaign promise by three new board members, was approved by a 6-3 vote. In addition to Mrs. Fisher, Libby Blackburn, Kevin Mahler, Ralph Pagone, Scott Russell and board President Chris Jacobs voted in favor.

“I believe this is the right thing to do,” said Mr. Mahler. “Class size, particularly at the elementary level, is part of the decision-making process when families consider moving into the district.”

He added that smaller class sizes are also “an important determinant of student outcomes.”

Voting against the policy were Joseph Greenberg, Maureen Grosheider and Thomas Schwartzmier. All said they support lower class sizes, but had different reasons for opposing the policy.

Mr. Schwartzmier’s concern was the number of sections that may have to be added after the budget has been set for the year. He said one estimate he saw could add 14 sections next year.

Mr. Greenberg and Mrs. Grosheider both expressed concerns about the specificity of the policy.

“By having specific numbers in place, I believe that we open the district up to possible litigation. We open it to grievances filed by bargaining units,” Mr. Greenberg said. “This is a policy that can only harm the district.”

Mrs. Grosheider said the types of students, such as the number of students with individualized education plans, should be taken into account rather than a hard number. “I don’t think it is necessary. I do think the specificity in here is too much, she said.

Higher elementary class sizes in the 2012-13 school year in some elementary schools drew the ire of parents. Mr. Greenberg said the higher class sizes were the result of a tight budget and the retirement of 36 staff members.

“The perception is that the large class sizes were because the administration ran amuck,” he said. “It was done with the board’s full understanding of what was going on. As board members, let’s not point fingers at the administration that you did something wrong. It was done hand-in-hand with the board.”

Sandy Trozzo, freelance writer:

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