Howard County's fast-growing school population -- and the schools' mounting budget problems -- are producing large classes in some elementary schools.
County public schools enrolled 31,460 students by Sept. 30 this year, an increase of 1,500 over 1990-1991. Much of the increase has been in the elementary schools, the first to feel the impact of growing enrollments and a limit on the hiring of new teachers.
Reports on class sizes in elementary, middle and high schools arescheduled for presentation to the school board at its meeting Thursday.
"In the past, we had the luxury of pool positions (to add teachers) where class sizes were larger than expected. We no longer have that," said Edward E. Alexander, director of elementary schools.
The pool allowed the hiring of additional teachers once classes began.But the pool budget was reduced this year, and Alexander said that although he was allowed to hire four or five additional teachers, he needed more.
Last year, Alexander said, average class sizes in all elementary schools were at or below the 1:25 teacher/pupil ratio set by the school board in academic subjects: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and health.
This year, Alexander's records show that there are higher average class sizes in some elementary social studies, science and health classes. Waterloo Elementary, for example, has an average of 28 students in science classes; Elkridge has an average of 27 in social studies; Bryant Woods has an average of 33 in social studies and science.
Principals have generally held down class sizes in reading, language arts and math. The school system has a cap of 29 students per class in these subjects because they are more likely to require individual or group work than are "whole class" subjects, Alexander said. The cap means a principal musthave Alexander's permission to exceed 29 students in the classes.
Most of the middle schools have managed to keep average class sizes below 25, Alice W. Haskins, director of middle schools, noted in her report.
At Dunloggin, whose 900 students make up the most heavily populated middle school in the county, Principal Eugene Estes kept class sizes under 25 in reading, foreign language, English and mathematics. But science classes have an average of 28 students, social studies 27, and non-academic courses such as home economics and industrialarts have an average of 32 students per class.
High schools are just beginning to see the effect of the school population boom that hit county elementary schools in the 1980s. Daniel L. Jett, director ofhigh schools, reported that overall class sizes decreased in only one of the eight high schools this fall. Last year, overall class sizesdecreased in four high schools.
Jett's report asks the school board to maintain current staffing ratios to "provide a full range of program opportunities." In small high schools such as Hammond, the school system can't offer the same course options as in larger schools unless it provides a higher ratio of staff to students than the 1:23.5 set by the board, he explained.