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State gives counties the option to expand classroom sizes
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Schools across the state may start adding desks to classrooms, now that the state board of education has approved a measure to increase class sizes in Georgia schools.

The state board approved on Jan. 8 a class size waiver allowing elementary and middle schools to increase classes by two students in the 2009-10 school year. This gives kindergarten classes a maximum of 20 students, first- through third-grade classes a maximum of 23 and fourth- through eighth-grade classes a maximum of 30. High school classes will remain at 32 students per class, according to the waiver.

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 2009-10 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 in a letter to state Board of Education chairwoman Wanda Barrs.

The move comes three months after Gov. Sonny Perdue sent a letter to all Georgia schools’ superintendents noting his intention to introduce legislation to the General Assembly in January that would allow local districts more flexibility in the use of state funds. This legislation, the letter noted, would ask the state board of
education to grant all "reasonable" class size waiver requests for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.

Shannon Adams, superintendent of Jackson County schools, said the board’s decision was not a surprise to school officials.

"That’s one of the concessions we were expecting the state to make," he said.

As it stands now, the board’s decision won’t have much of an impact on Jackson County because class sizes are well below the maximum numbers, Adams said. Should the school system experience a larger-than-expected influx of students in the fall, he said the schools would take advantage of the waiver.

"We’re not going to let the class sizes get out of hand," he said.

Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield expressed similar sentiments, noting that 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.

"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."

Staff writer Jessica Jordan contributed to this report.

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