After layoffs, district reviews class sizes

News of teacher layoffs in the Barnwell 45 school district has teachers and parents concerned as to how this will affect class sizes for next school year.

The school board during a special called meeting March 31 voted to lay off 36 retired and first-year teachers in anticipation of a shortfall of funds for the next school year.

Thirty-two teaching positions were eliminated for next year, said Margaret Matheny, the district human resources director.

Despite this action, district officials say class sizes will not exceed the state limits.

Class size is determined according to the grade and subject taught, she said.

This year, the district had 189 certificated personnel, or people licensed to teach by the state, although not all these are faculty in front of a classroom. The district has a student population of about 2,500 children, Matheny said.

Barnwell 45 has been decreasing in its student population in the last few years, which means the district has been getting less money from the state for its per-pupil allotment, she said.

In the 2008-09 school year, the state per-pupil allotment was $2,190. Next year the allotment will be $1,929, said Pete Pillow, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Education.

Statewide, the public education system underwent a $387 million reduction in funding.

"The education budget was cut more this year than in the last four years. We took four years of cuts in one year," he said.

Some of the reconfiguring for next year Matheny outlined include:

• The 4-year-old kindergarten, which had full day sessions this year for 60 children will go to two half-day classes of 80 children with two teachers and two teacher's aides.

• There are about 200 kindergartners in the district this year, equating to 22 children per classroom. Next year the class size will be 28 children, which is under the 30-children limit the state has, Matheny said.

• First grade had 17 pupils this year but next year will likely have 20. The state limit is 21 children per teacher, she said.
"That's not but three more kids," Matheny said.

• In second grade, the class size will go from 18 this year to 20 next year, she said.

• Third grade, which has had between 19 and 20 children in a class, will remain unchanged, she said.

• Fourth grade had on average 24 per class while fifth grade had 21 students this year. Both grades will have class sizes of 28 children, Matheny said.
"We are trying to stay under the state maximum in any case," she said.
In the lower grades, a teacher might teach a "self-contained" class where that teacher teaches all the courses, Matheny said.

• State requirements allow a maximum of 30 sixth graders in a class for English/language arts or math and 35 for all other subjects.

• Seventh grade on average had 16 pupils in a class, but will have 28 next year, Matheny said.

State requirements allow a maximum of 35 in seventh grade for all subjects.

"In a sense, the district was overstaffed," she said. "Part of that was Guinyard-Butler Middle School was getting technical assistance money that allowed them to have more teachers."

"High school is a whole different ball game," Matheny said in terms of class size, which is determined by the subject taught.

English classes on average had 17 students, which will increase to 24 students while social studies, which had 18 students on average this year will have 22, she said.

Class sizes for science and business subjects will remain low because of the space limitations that the labs have, Matheny said.

Matheny said she met with Barnwell High principal Linda Zionkowski about the class sizes and the number of classes needed because every student needs certain credits to graduate.

"In high school, everybody has to take math and English," she said.

According to state requirements, a high school teacher cannot see more than 150 students a day and each class size cannot exceed 35 students. This requirement doesn't apply to "activity" classes like band or physical education, which can have larger classes. P.E. classes cannot exceed 40 students.

Matheny has heard the rumor that gifted and talented classes and honors subjects would not be taught, which is false, she said.

"I'm not sure what gifted and talented (classes) will look like next year. We will be having honors classes. How many I don't know. But that is more interest-driven classes than budget-driven classes. It depends on the number interested in signing up for it," she said.