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Norwood-Norfolk teachers ask board of education for another fourth-grade teacher


NORFOLK - Four teachers asked the Norwood-Norfolk Board of Education members Tuesday night to consider adding another fourth-grade teacher for the 2014-15 school year to keep their class sizes from jumping to more than 30 students per section.

“We’re here to beg you to hire another fourth-grade teacher,” Brandi Akins told the board during their budget work session.

She said the fourth-grade teachers are already overwhelmed with their numbers and, if enrollment projections hold true, it will be worse next year.

“It has been an overwhelmingly difficult year for us,” Ms. Akins said.

Superintendent James M. Cruikshank said there are currently three sections of fourth-grade classes with 28, 27 and 26 students. Without adding another section, those numbers would jump to two sections of 32 students each and one section of 33 students next year. With a fourth section, they would be looking at two sections of 24 students each and two sections of 25 students each.

“Keeping things the way they are would mean 33 students in each fourth-grade classroom next year,” they said in a letter they provided board members.

The teachers said that, with the new Common Core standards, they’re having difficulty finding the time to assist individual students because of the number of students in their classes.

They noted that at the current fourth-grade level 32 students did not meet the cut score on the third-grade English Language Arts assessment. Of those, 21 are receiving Tier 2 Title Reading Services and five of them are also receiving Tier 3 Title Reading Services.

They also said 37 students did not meet the cut score in math and 22 of them are receiving math Academic Intervention Services.

“The remaining 11 ELA students and 15 math students are not receiving additional help in a small group setting, but are being progress monitored in the classroom,” they said in their letter. “Students are not getting the services they need in fourth grade with three classrooms. Increasing class size next year to 33 students will make it even more difficult to meet student needs.”

Speaking to the board, Cheryl Shumway said, “My priority is 25. The new Common Core is so difficult for students to make that jump. It’s been a difficult year. To go over 25 next year, to me would be a disaster at any level.”

“(Many students) require extra services we wouldn’t be able to provide,” Ms. Akins added.

The number of sections varies by grade level, with pre-kindergarten, fourth, fifth and sixth sitting at three levels, while kindergarten, first, second and third are at four levels. But fourth and fifth grades have the highest projected class sizes. Without any changes, fifth grade would have three sections of 27 students each in 2014-15. With four sections, those would be reduced to three sections of 20 students each and one section of 21 students.

“It would be ideal to go four sections at every grade level,” Ms. Akins said.

The request for another teacher comes at a time when their current budget draft shows a gap of $1,814,762. Although Mr. Cruikshank said they still need to finalize some numbers, their current projected revenue budget is $18,597,496, while their projected expenditure budget is $20,412,258.

“We have some actual numbers to put into the budget now. They’re not great numbers,” he said.

Their second draft projects $12,319,649 in state and federal aid, $6,148,490 from the tax levy (including the STAR tax exemption) and $129,357 from other miscellaneous revenue.

Their state and federal aid projection is down from the current $12,975,298 because they have projects coming off the books and will no longer receive aid for them.

Their current tax levy limit, according to Mr. Cruikshank, is $6,148,490, which is a 0.51 percent increase over their 2013-14 tax levy. That 0.51 percent increase would bring in $31,038, he said.

Changes will have to be made, whether it’s to staffing or programming, the superintendent said. But, he noted, they had already been hit hard with staff cuts since 2010.

Their reductions include four playground monitors, two study hall monitors, one teacher clerical, two-and-a-half cleaners, one cook/manager, three food service workers, one BOCES counselor, one business office clerical, one librarian, one facilities manager, one food service manager, four teacher assistants, one bus driver and 12 teachers from the across the board, including math, science, technology, ELA, music, social, physical education, special education and adaptive physical education.

They’ve also lost junior varsity sports, K through six summer school and their summer recreation program.

In that same four-year period, they’ve added two aides, two special education teachers and one-half reading teacher, Mr. Cruikshank said.

“As we go through, you can see how those full-time equivalent positions add up,” he said.

In addition to adding another fourth-grade teacher, board members are also being asked to consider adding some junior varsity sports back into the district. It would cost at the most, according to initial calculations, approximately $41,000 to field six JV teams. But, based on the numbers of students participating in some sports, athletic coordinator Paul Durant said he couldn’t recommend that all six teams be reinstated to the district’s program.

He suggested that, based on the current numbers, they would have sufficient interest to field junior varsity girls’ soccer and girls’ basketball.

Board President Jon Hazen noted that, if they decided to add those two sports, they could look at the numbers and, if there wasn’t sufficient interest down the road, they could eliminate them again.

Business Manager Lisa M. Mitras said that, based on the board’s discussions Tuesday, she would go back and re-do the numbers to come up with a revised gap between revenues and expenditures. They could then begin prioritizing the budget, she said.

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