Years of state spending cuts in education last week trickled down to more tough choices for the Payson Unified School District (PUSD): Should schools focus on cutting class sizes or helping kids deal with the challenging social and emotional issues children bring to school?
King Solomon: The baby is ready.
At its Sept. 23 meeting, the school board asked Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) School Principal Will Dunman to try to find a balance between two needs — smaller fifth grade class sizes or a school counselor.
Board member James Quinlan said a fifth grade parent called him about rising class sizes.
“I did have a fifth grade parent call me, and she was very concerned about the sizes in the fifth grade — and she came to me and told me that you had told her that you needed the counselor because you could not do everything yourself and so you chose the counselor over the additional fifth grade teacher,” said Quinlan.
Dunman responded he had made the choice to hire a counselor after researching the Quality Education Model recommending one counselor for every 250 students. At the time, projections suggested fifth grade classrooms would average 26 or 27 students per class.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock used the staffing model developed by the Quality Education Commission of Oregon (www.oregon.gov/gov/oeib/ docs/qem.pdf).
A 2010 report offered a staffing model based on educational research for elementary through high schools, including the example of a K-5 school with 340 students, which included average class sizes, to the number of full time, special education teachers, specialists for art, music, PE, reading, math, library/media, second language, or child development and professional development for teachers.
It even suggested the number of textbooks and hours of leadership training, based on research into highly successful elementary schools.
But Dunman said this year the number of JRE students that showed up at the start of the year took everyone by surprise.
Dunman reported he has a total of 188 fifth grade students with class sizes ranging from 27 to 33 students in each.
Now he has used up his allotted staff positions and has no budget to hire another teacher.
Moreover, JRE doesn’t actually have space for another fifth grade classroom.
“At the time, when we were looking at the staffing model, we did not have a large fifth grade class,” said Dunman. “And yes, I did choose a counselor because of the needs of our third through fifth grade students” who have a “wide range of issues that need to be addressed.”
At the end of the discussion, Dunman agreed to revisit the staffing model and make the tough decision between keeping a counselor or hiring another fifth grade teacher.
The state Legislature has cut more than $1 billion from the state’s K-12 schools in the past several years, the deepest cuts in the nation, according to national reports.
Arizona spends less per student than almost any other state.