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Class size waiver won't affect Gainesville, Hall schools much

State school board raises limits to ease budget crunch

POSTED: January 9, 2009 12:49 a.m.

Georgia public schools can add two more students to most elementary and middle school classes under a measure passed Thursday by the state school board.

The board unanimously passed a temporary increase to the state-mandated class size limit to help districts wade through rough budget waters next school year.

The statewide waiver is good for only the 2009-2010 school year and could save districts up to $200 million on the cost of hiring new teachers as they face declining state funding and falling property tax collections.

State schools Superintendent Kathy Cox asked the board to consider waiving maximum class size limits for the state’s 180 school districts facing anticipated budget shortfalls for the 2009-2010 school year.

"Given the current economic state, I believe the lack of local revenue will result in unprecedented budget challenges for local school districts as they prepare budgets for next school year," Cox wrote Wednesday in a letter to state Board of Education Chairwoman Wanda Barrs.

Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer has said the class size waivers have little impact on the Gainesville school system because it has had similar class size flexibility since the system was granted charter system status last year.

Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield said the system may use the waiver next year to increase some class sizes, but the Hall County Board of Education remains dedicated to maintaining positive teacher to pupil ratios and currently is in a financial position to do so.

"This is a nice gesture on the state’s part, but I don’t think it will affect Hall County schools a whole lot," Schofield said. "... Statewide it’s going to make some difference; it will give some wiggle room to local systems. But again, it’s been such an important cornerstone of (the Hall County school board) to try to keep class sizes smaller that that ruling probably will affect us less than many."

Andrew Broy, associate state schools superintendent, said the additional two students permitted in kindergarten through eighth-grade classes should have a "minimal" impact on student achievement.

Broy said the waiver was passed early in the local district’s budgeting schedules to allow school boards more fiduciary efficiency in personnel planning for next school year.

"So for larger districts, for instance with Gwinnett, instead of adding hundreds of teachers a year like they do, they can decide to add slightly fewer if they need to," Broy said.

The temporary class size flexibility does not apply to special education, English as a second language, fine arts and foreign language classrooms. A 2006 law limits class sizes in math, science, social studies and language arts from kindergarten through middle school.

Broy said because special education and English language learners often struggle on state standardized tests, the school board wants to focus on improving achievement with those students and did not want to extend the waiver to those classes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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