The Georgia Board of Education will once again allow school districts to decide how large class sizes should be next school year, but Gainesville and Hall school officials believe that will have little local impact.
The measure was approved by the board last Thursday to give the state’s 180 school districts flexibility on how to spend their limited funding amid the worst state financial crisis in decades.
“Our school board has made it a priority to keep class sizes smaller as far as we can afford,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. “As long as there isn’t a looming financial disaster, I don’t see much changing for us.”
Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said the district already has flexibility built into its charter school grants.
Individual schools set their class sizes with approval by the school-level governance council. They base their decisions on research and student performance, Dyer said.
“Our schools make the decision based on the type of school it is, and the district also values keeping the class sizes as small as they can.”
Dyer said it would be late March before school leaders evaluate the situation and make any decisions about class size maximums.
State lawmakers passed a measure last year giving the state authority to let school districts make the call rather than imposing limits, a practice of the Georgia Department of Education since 2009.
The class size exemption doesn’t remove the requirement for school districts to continue to meet federal and state accountability measures as well as health and safety requirements.
This year’s limits for Hall County classrooms are up to 20 students for kindergarten and 35 for grades sixth to 12th.
The system used the waiver last year to increase some class sizes by about two to seven students.
Hall County Schools Competency Specialist Gerald Boyd said the school board will likely keep class sizes at the current level for next year. The board will look at a proposal at the Feb. 28 school board meeting.
“In all probability, that’s what we’ll go by,” Boyd said.
State officials have said loosening statewide restrictions gives local districts more leeway to manage difficult budgeting situations.
Dyer said she predicts another lean budget year is ahead for the state.
She said districts are still grappling with annual austerity cuts, which have totaled more than $1 billion over eight years.
Additional cuts are expected in the mid-term budget of about 7 percent, she added.
Associated Press contributed to this report.