The Georgia Board of Education granted Monday an exemption of all statutory and regulatory class size maximums for the 2010-2011 school year, citing a need to give school systems more flexibility amid the continued economic downturn that has affected local communities and the state.
Despite Monday's action, local district leaders say they do not expect to see the sizes of their classes changing greatly when the school year begins in August. For Bartow County Schools, those limits may not change at all.
"The board has been committed to keeping class sizes where they are," said Ben Desper, Bartow County Schools' assistant superintendent. "I don't think this will have any impact.
"I see what [state education leaders] are trying to do to provide some flexibility for school systems, but let's be honest, it's the fact that they're not providing the money to pay for our classes that's really an issue," Desper added. "But our board is going to do its best to keep the classes similar to [what they've been] -- I don't see any increases over this past school year."
Local school districts who wish to raise class size limits beyond the current requirements will be required to submit a local board resolution to the Georgia Department of Education. The resolution must be approved at a local board meeting to ensure that all stakeholders are informed about the school district's decision regarding size increases. The exemption of class size maximums does not remove the requirement for school districts to continue to meet all federal and state accountability measures as well as health and safety requirements.
The exemption made this the second year in a row the state school board has granted such a waiver, though last year class sizes were limited to an average of two more students per class.
Monday's state board action could effectively be moot to Cartersville City Schools. Cartersville Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said the district in its charter system application is seeking the ability to establish its own class size limits. The district's application was moved forward by the state board of education during its meeting earlier this month, and board members could hand down official approval of it at their June 10 meeting.
Clouse said district leaders have not yet set potential class sizes, but expected next year's limits to change little.
"I don't anticipate our class sizes for most regular classes to change a whole lot -- they might go up one or two students, which everybody in the state was probably planning on doing anyway and asking for waivers," Clouse said. "I think that's why the state board made the decision they did because they knew they were going to get a bunch of waivers just because of the financial situation that everybody's in.
"If you have one student who enrolled in the middle of the year, and that put you over, that wasn't fair to go out and get a new teacher at that time, so that's why those waivers were in place then," he added. "Now it's just because of the economic stretch."
Cartersville has applied for and been granted class size waivers in the past. Two years ago, the district asked to raise by one student each the limits in kindergarten and second grade, bringing those maximums to 21 and 22 students, respectively. Last year, officials asked to raise the limits in several gifted classes, but were limited to increases of up to three students, bringing the max number to 20 in each affected class.
"We think 17's an awful low number for gifted classes. That's some of your better academic students, and you should be able to put several more students in there, and that has been our intent with the charter," Clouse said.
Class sizes vary, as state guidelines have prescribed different limits for classes based on subject, grade and the classification of students in a class, such as special education or gifted.
Clouse said Cartersville officials will use those state guidelines as they develop their student limits.
"What we said [in the charter contract] is we would take the state board's rule for regular ed. classes and use that as our starting point," he said. "We did not anticipate changing by [more than] two or three students in regular ed. classes, and I think that is what was typically going to happen across the state.
"We're not going to have 40 first-graders in a class and that sort of thing. We're trying to keep it reasonable, 22, 23 in those lower grades. Class size for middle school has been 30 -- we're going to be around that, and I do not anticipate that we will have many classes that are more than 30 at the middle school level. High school's the same way -- it's 30, 32 ... for the most part, we're going to have what we've had in the past."
A recommendation on class size limits, Clouse said, could be brought up to Cartersville School Board members in July.
-- Some information from the Associated Press was used in this report.