The Frankfort-Schuyler school board voted Tuesday to add three part-time teacher aides, but parents say that won't be enough to make up for large class sizes.
Superintendent Robert Reina reviewed the enrollment figures for grades K-5, which showed a net increase of 15 children in those grades since July 19. In that time period, the kindergarten enrollment has risen from 71 to 75, first grade from 74 to 78, second grade, 63 to 69, third grade has decreased from 81 to 79, fourth grade has gone from 64 to 66 and fifth grade from 77 to 78.
Reina noted projected enrollment and class sizes had been discussed as part of the budget process and there had been extensive discussion about class sizes, particularly for third grade, where the projected enrollment of 81 students would result in three classes of 27 students each.
"You, the board, made the decision to stay with the budget you adopted and we would monitor the enrollment," said Reina. "We've looked at the numbers several times since then and what has really changed in terms of the enrollment per grade level?" He noted there have been increases in grades K-2 and a slight decrease in the enrollment for third grade. "I know there are concerns about class sizes," he said, but added data suggests the size of the classes for grades K-2 might be more critical than the upper grades.
He pointed out that the board voted at its last meeting to add a teacher aide to be placed at the discretion of elementary Principal Joyce Dayton.
Board member Dominick Bellino proposed adding up to three part-time teacher aides to supplement the staff.
"This is such a fluid situation," he said. He estimated hiring teachers would cost the district about $80,000 each. "I think we need to do something due to the moderately high numbers."
"It's not just one class that's heavy," said board President Lisa LoRe.
Board member Jack Bono suggested the aides could help with Academic Intervention Services.
A group of parents who attended the meeting were not satisfied with the addition of part-time aides.
Amelia Jacobs said there should be a fourth class section for the third grade class. "There has been no stability for this class," she said, pointing out they have seen teacher changes each year due to maternity leaves and illnesses. "This is nothing against the teachers. Our teachers are amazing, but they cannot teach 27 students. Kids are going to start slipping through the cracks."
Another mother agreed, saying the only thing that would be happening in a 25-member kindergarten class would be "classroom management." She said there had been "grandmothers" assisting in kindergarten classrooms in Ilion to help children with needs such as visiting the restroom.
Most of the board members were on the board that decided to close West Frankfort school and promised small class sizes, said Tammy Butera. "Twenty-six to 30 kids is not small," she added, "and come September or October we could have even more kids in the district. You've failed me and now you're failing my children. Maybe it's time we look at a new board and vote some new members in."
Page 2 of 2 - LoRe said that, as a teacher, she understands the importance of class size. "In a perfect world we'd hire four new teachers. But we also have a budget and we have no funds to hire four teachers. That's the reality. We do want to do what's best for the children." She said the full-time aide and three part-time aides would offer some support and would be placed at the discretion of the principal.
Bellino added the board had raised the budget as high as it could under the state's 2 percent tax cap. "To put four new teachers in place would cost the district $320,000 and an additional 1 percent on the tax rate raises only $50,000. That would mean a 6.5 percent tax increase in addition to the 2 percent. There's nobody here who thinks three aides at 17 hours a week will solve the problems. The reality is there's no money."
He said the $500,000 a year that was saved by closing the West Frankfort district went into teachers' and employees' retirement and health insurance and those three categories alone totaled more than $500,000.
"If West Frankfort school hadn't been closed, we'd be bankrupt," he said.
Board members Jack Bono added cuts in state aid had also hit the district hard.
Shirley Randazzo asked if the board could consider hiring one teacher for the third grade.
LoRe said she didn't think the district could hire a teacher, but she added that children are resilient. "Your children are going to react the way you react," she said. She said the grandmother program in Ilion was made up of volunteers and might be a good idea for Frankfort-Schuyler as well if there were people willing to serve in that capacity.