Stokes calls reducing class sizes a priority

15 pupils per teacher is candidate's goal

July 23, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In a campaign pledge yesterday, Baltimore mayoral candidate Carl F. Stokes said he would work with the city school board to reduce elementary class sizes to 15 students in an effort to improve math and reading scores.

Stokes made the statement while appearing outside Mount Royal Elementary and Middle School, where class-size cuts are credited with increasing math and reading scores in grades one through three.

Stokes, who sat on the city school board for two years before stepping down to run for mayor in December, took credit for helping to initiate the class reductions from 29 to 21 pupils in the three lower grades across the city. Grades four and five are targeted for reductions in the coming school year.

Citywide, reading scores increased 29 percent while math scores jumped 18 percent in the reduced classes. At Mount Royal, class sizes were reduced to 16. The Bolton Hill school saw reading scores rise by 73 percent while math scores increased 55 percent, Stokes said.

"My vision for the city starts with children and education," Stokes said, standing at a podium before 16 Mount Royal summer camp pupils playing on a playground. "The most important thing we talk about is the vision for education."

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III has criticized Stokes for his stance, saying that he doubts that the cash-strapped city -- facing a projected $153 million deficit over the next four years -- has the money to reduce class sizes. Bell recently told an East Baltimore crowd that a more realistic class size is 20.

"I'm not going to make promises I can't keep," Bell said.

Reducing class sizes to 21 citywide in the three lower grades cost $10 million for more teachers, Stokes said. Cutting them to 15 would cost about $1.5 million more per grade, he said.

The former East Baltimore city councilman criticized city leaders for not making reduction of class sizes a priority. The city school budget is $831 million.

"It's not about money," Stokes said. "It's about priorities."

Linda Eberhart, an assistant campaign manager for Stokes, teaches fifth grade at Mount Royal. Although the cuts in class size have not reached her grade, third-grade colleagues are reporting marked improvement in the lower grades, she said.

"The third-grade teachers couldn't believe it," Eberhart said. "It works."

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