Union Leader Visits Duluth School's High Class Sizes

By KBJR News 1

October 23, 2012 Updated Oct 23, 2012 at 5:45 PM CST

DULUTH, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Class sizes are a growing concern in Duluth Public Schools.

While some high school classes are pushing close to 50 students, and some elementary levels in the low 30s.

In Mrs. Mikel's class students act as busy bees, but it's teachers that are the busiest.

"There's not enough time to make sure that they are able to meet individually with students and understand where they are," said Bonnie Wolden, principal of Lester Park Elementary.

She says space at the school is lacking.

"Even in the new buildings the plan was to have fewer than 30 students in the classroom, so I think it was 25 to 28, so we're above that."

Locker space is sometimes shared and volunteers are depended on.

The younger years are seen as vital for student progress, a time when intervention keeps students out of the achievement gap.

"A lot of the teachers attention goes to managing behavior, teaching procedures for kids to operate well," said Wolden.

Class sizes were such a concern that the president of the union Education Minnesota decided to come to check it out for himself.

"To come and actually see it, where kids are actually really sitting in the window sills, or a lawn chair or on the floor, it's really disappointing... When you get class sizes this big it starts to crowd out the learning that they really need to take," said Tom Dooher, the president of Education Minnesota.

District leaders say the budget deficits are not because of the new buildings,

"Ultimately raising class size as part of a solution, that would exist whether we had a facilities plan or not," said Bill Hanson, the district's business director.

"At this point, we can't do anything more. What we really need to happen is for changes to be made in funding at the state level and then we also need to look at funding at the local level through a levy referendum," said Bill Gronseth, the superintendent.

"Once you build the facility that is one thing you can be proud of, you've got to put in the resources for the operations," said Dooher, whether it comes from a change in resources, priorities, levies or state funding.

Dooher said the upcoming elections for the state seats could make a difference helping to secure more funding for education at the state level. He also urges people to contact their new legislators to bring light to the issue.

The superintendent said there are more students coming back to the district now that the long range facilities plan is almost complete and projections show student enrollment levels flat lining in the next few years and then slowly growing, but higher enrollment doesn't normally mean bigger classes, that's based on teacher cuts.

Posted to Web by Jena Pike
jpike@northlandsnewscenter.com