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Vermont Looks At Class Sizes

At the request of state lawmakers, the Vermont Agency of Education has drawn up a report that recommends minimum class sizes and student-staff ratios for public schools, and tax penalties to enforce them.

While the recommendations aren’t likely to become law, they highlight Vermont’s ongoing decline in enrollment, and show that state officials are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to bring school cost under control.

“I think it’s going to get a bit of traction,” said Rep. Alison Clarkson, D-Woodstock. The report was presented to the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles tax policy, and of which Clarkson is a member, last week. “One of the reasons we asked for (the report) is the number one cost driver in education is staffing,” Clarkson said in an interview.

The report, which examined two years of course data collected by the Agency of Education, found that the majority of courses in Vermont schools have enrollments of 13 to 21 students. But at the state’s 87 elementary schools with fewer than 150 students, slightly more than half of courses comprise between three and nine children.

Thus, the report recommends setting minimum course sizes of 10 for elementary schools (K-6 or K-8) with 150 students or more, and five for elementary schools with fewer than 150 students. For K-12 schools, middle schools, junior high schools and high schools, the recommended minimum class size would be 10.

The report also recommends that all schools have a minimum student-teacher ratio of 8-1 and a minimum student-staff ratio of 5.5-1. Also, there should be no fewer than 75 students per administrator and no fewer than 700 students per superintendent and assistant superintendent.

The report also recommends imposing tax incentives or penalties based on whether a school, or a district with multiple schools, complies with the proposed ratios. For school districts that fall below the recommended minimum, the only ways to attain it would be a sudden and unlikely increase in enrollment or cutting staff, according to the report.

Schools and supervisory unions “affected by these recommended minimum ratios will require an advance time to begin the planning for how to reduce staff, either through personnel retiring or leaving or through reductions in force,” the report says.

While Clarkson, of Ways and Means, said she saw merit in the report, another Upper Valley lawmaker who sits on the House Education Committee seemed less inclined to support it.

“There’s a long way to go before I’m convinced that Vermont being the first state to impose minimum class sizes” would address the cost issues the state faces, Rep. Sarah Buxton, D-Tunbridge, said in an interview.

Setting minimum class sizes might push more schools to consider collaborating or consolidating, but it addresses a symptom of the financial woes facing the state’s education system, not the root illness, Buxton said. With public school enrollment continuing to decline, and school expenses increasing, the state is facing a financial crisis, Buxton said.

The report on class sizes and student-teacher ratios was required by passage of a new education law last year. Although national surveys of student-staff ratios had shown Vermont to have among the lowest ratios in the nation, the state hadn’t done its own study.

“It’s a great beginning of at least finding out what our ratios are,” Clarkson said.

Student Honors

Abbey Rouillard, of Claremont, was named to the Dean’s List at the University of New England, which has campuses in Biddeford and Portland, Maine.

∎ Molly Mead, of White River Junction, earned Dean’s List honors in Marquette University’s College of Education for the fall semester. Marquette is in Milwaukee, Wisc.

∎ Zachary Pollard, of Lebanon, was named to the Dean’s List at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.

Opportunities

The Vermont-based Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) is accepting applications for its Year of the Book grant through Feb. 15.

CLiF provides select elementary schools in New Hampshire and Vermont with more than $25,000 worth of children’s literacy programs, support and brand-new books over the course of one school year. Every student who participates in a CLiF Year of the Book will have the opportunity to choose up to 10 new books to keep from hundreds of high-quality titles.

The grant also provides funding for literacy enrichment activities, including storytelling presentations, author visits, writing workshops and mini-grants for teachers.

Only public elementary schools need apply, and to qualify schools must have at least 30 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 25 percent of students scoring below proficient on NECAP reading and writing tests. For more information go to clifonline.org and look for the Year of the Book link.

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