Class Growth Has Reached Bursting Point, Keech Says

January 27, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

At Churchville Elementary School, 36 students jostle each other in fifth-grade classes for room to sit and walk. Two classes at the school started the year with 33 children in each room, but have increased to the seam-splitting 36, says principal Jim Lewis.

"We're fortunate that we have good children who attend our school and good teachersin fifth grade, but 36 students in each room really puts a strain oneverybody. We're wall to wall with people," Lewis says.

The space crunch is even tighter at Southhampton Middle School, where 39 students pack one sixth-grade class.

The situation could get worse in the fall, when an estimated 1,602 new students walk into elementary school classrooms, say school administrators.

But Harford school superintendent Ray R. Keech says he hopes to avoid further crowding in elementary classrooms.

Keech and the school board havemade reducing class sizes in elementary schools their top budget priority for next school year -- no matter what else has to be trimmed from the budget to hire enough teachers to keep class sizes at a reasonable level.

"We have these situations where the sizes are alreadyout of hand, and the board has concluded we must address that and getthose down to normal," Keech says.

"We must get enough teachers to accommodate the growth," Keech insists. "For two years in a row, we've taken in an enormous amount of students with almost no new additional staff. We just can't do it three years in a row."

Last year, the average elementary school class had 23.1 students. This year, theaverage class grew to 24.4 students, with the smallest class size at22.9, says school spokesman Albert Seymour.

The number of classeswith more than 30 students increased

to 16 this school year, from two last year, he says.

If no new teachers are added, the average elementary school class size would increase to 25.5 next school year, according to school board projections.

Next year's goal is to have kindergarten classes of 15 studentsand first through third grades with no more than 22.Fourth and fifth grades would have no more than 25 students, Seymour says.

To accomplish those goals in the 1991-1992school year, Keech has requested 98.5 new elementary school teachers-- including six art teachers, 4 guidance positions and eight teachers for programs for "at-risk" students.

The average salary of a newly hired teacher in Harford is $32,000, which puts the price tag ofhiring 98.5 new teachers at about $3.15 million.

But county council members and the county executive have warned the school board the county likely won't be able to afford all the budget requests in Keech's proposed 1991-1992 operating budget of $153 million. That proposal is a 20 percent increase over the 1990-1991 school budget.

"We don't know for sure what the county executive will recommend for appropriations," Keech says. The deadline for that recommendation is April1.

But the superintendent acknowledges serious paring will have to be done to his proposal.

At a workshop and public hearing tomorrow night, the board plans to "roll up our sleeves and look at this budget and see what we have to have, and what we can do without," Keechsays.

He says he wants county residents' ideas before going back to the drawing board on the school budget.

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