School board wrestles with class sizes, staffing level
The Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors meeting was a crowded and an occasionally volatile place to be on Tuesday. Several teachers made a plea for increased staffing to create smaller class sizes, and a few community members expressed concern about possible changes to spring sports.
Board Member Tina Schubert did not attend the meeting.
Next year, the projected class size for fifth grade is 33-35 students. The school is expecting 34-36 students in the sixth grade, 23-25 students in the seventh grade and 30-32 students in the eighth grade.
The research used in the presentation by teachers Tina Merz, Jeff Pillar and Carrie Badger reported that a class size of 13-17 was ideal, and, to meet the needs of fourth through eighth graders, there should be no more than 22 students in a class. A high school class should have no more than 25 students.
Adrianne Wiltse-Hiatt, whose daughters will be transferring to the Wahkiakum School District in the fall was concerned.
“When we came in for visitor’s day,” she said, “it was shocking how many kids were in those classes. I’m coming from Longview, which is packed to the gills, and the reason I’m moving out here is for a personalized teaching experience.”
“I do not see that,” she finished.
Teachers asked the board to consider hiring three more teachers, an elementary teacher and two middle school teachers, one specializing in science and a PE/Elective teacher.
“We want to budget where it counts, and that is for our students, and we need another teacher,” Tina Merz said. “These class sizes are not ideal for our kids.”
Superintendent Bob Garrett said that he agreed but that his hands were tied.
“I can only do so much with what we have,” he said.
“Like you said, you can only do what you can do,” teacher Nicole Wilson said. “As teachers, we are not given that luxury. We have to show student growth with every child now. The legislature demands it. We have to meet these standards and if you don’t help us by giving us smaller class sizes or giving us these things that can help us do this job, we will not be successful, and the ones that are suffering are the kids.”
“When the McCleary Decision comes through,” Garrett said, “we won’t have to have these discussions.”
With the McCleary Decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the State of Washington was failing to fund public education and the court is now requiring that public schools be fully funded by the legislature no later than 2018.
Director Shawn Merz moved to have Garrett list three vacancies, two middle school teachers and one elementary teacher.
“I don’t know how you do that financially,” Board Member Tim Hanigan said.
“The teachers are not supposed to be worried about the budget, they are there to teach the kids,” Merz said. “That’s what we are deciding here. They have a lot of kids to teach.”
“I support smaller class sizes,” Hanigan responded. “I’m not going to do it at the financial burden of the district and put the district under. You have to balance this out. You don’t just get to write a check for anything you want.”
No one seconded Merz’s motion, and it was dropped.
One community member chastised the teachers for not bringing their concerns to the board at levy time.
“Boo on you,” Paula Culbertson said. “I agree with you on class sizes, but when you come at the eleventh hour, and the board has a legal obligation to keep this district solvent, I think you need to give this board a chance to retrench.”
With some members of the school board wanting time to reflect on the new information before making a decision, one solution was to list the three possible vacancies at the school district in hopes of attracting a pool of good candidates, in case the board elected to hire three new teachers.
This time, Shawn Merz moved that the district post three possible vacancies--one elementary teacher, one middle school science teacher, and one middle school PE teacher. This time Michelle Budd seconded his motion.
Budd, Merz and O’Connor voted for, and Hanigan voted against.
Discussion regarding extra-curricular activities remained on the agenda. Advocates for the golf program returned and were joined by a new group of parents and individuals who were there to support baseball.
There were many comments on the positive effects of baseball, and it was reported that more than one eighth grade student had derived a great deal of pleasure and confidence from the experience. One father threatened to transfer his boys to Longview schools if the program were pulled.
Extra-curricular sports remain on the agenda, but the school board shows no inclination to make a decision at this time.
Sheila Mace gave an update on the school garden.
“People volunteered 80.5 hours with the children in the six weeks that we did this,” Mace said. “Students did a good job, and teachers need to be commended for their excellent work in bringing the students out. We appreciate that support; it was just tremendous.”
The school board went into executive session and, after reconvening, agreed to extend contracts of high school Principal Stephanie Leitz, K-8 Principal Theresa Libby and Superintendent Garrett. All other items on the executive session agenda passed, and classified staff were given a 1 percent retroactive increase for the 2013-2014 year.
Instead of adjourning at 9 p.m., the school board decided to recess until 5:30 p.m. on June 25 in the high school library, where they will continue to address the request for more teachers.