Janesville School Board votes to increase class size at high schools

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
— Some Janesville high school students will see more crowded classrooms next fall—up to 32 students per class.

The Janesville School Board voted for the cost-saving measure Tuesday night. The current maximum is 30, although teachers sometimes agree to take one or two extra students, officials said.

Teachers will not be asked to take any more than 32 next year, said Steve Sperry, director of human and administrative services.

Board member Kristen Hesselbacher was among those voting against the change.

“I don’t ever see us going back to 1-to-30. … It’s never going to get better,” Hesselbacher said.

Board members Scott Feldt and Lori Stottler disagreed, saying they believed a future board might indeed reduce class sizes if conditions change.

Superintendent Karen Schulte said she proposed the change only to save money. The board is expecting a budget shortfall of $8 million to $10 million for 2012-13.

“We have great, capable teachers that most likely could handle 32 in a classroom, but I do have concerns about teachers getting burned out after a period of time,” Schulte said.

Officials would not estimate how much money would be saved, or how many teaching positions might be lost, saying that there is insufficient information at this early date on which to base an estimate.

More will be known in January, after students select next year’s classes, they said.

It appeared that the change would not be nearly enough to close the projected budget gap, however.

“As difficult as it is to raise class sizes, I believe we’re facing tougher decisions later on,” said board President Bill Sodemann.

The vote was 5-3, with Greg Ardrey and Karl Dommershausen joining Hesselbacher in voting against the change.

Dommershausen pronounced himself “very disturbed,” saying the negative effects of the decision might not be known for a long time.

“Families are cutting back. People have to understand the financial situation we’re in,” said Stottler.

Stottler proposed the maximum middle school class size remain at 30, rejecting the administration’s recommendation that it also be raised to 32.

Board members Feldt, Peter D. Severson and Sodemann voted against making no change in middle school classes. DuWayne Severson was absent.

Feldt said the effect of class sizes on the quality of education is not known to a certainty, so whether the impact will be negative is not known.

“At times we have to make what are difficult and not always good decisions,” Feldt said. “They’re the best of the worst decisions.”

Not all high school classes will have 32 students, just as not all classes this year are at the maximum of 30.

Some classes won’t have enough students signed up to get up to 32, while some classrooms won’t accommodate that many students, officials said.

Science labs are set up for a maximum of 28 students, for example. Welding classes max out at 24, with two students per welding station.

The board last year increased the minimum class size at the middle and high schools to 24, also to save money. That move spurred protest marches at both high schools.

Last updated: 7:06 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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