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ICCSD class sizes creep upward

IOWA CITY– Although the state’s budget of zero-percent allowable growth has constrained staff hiring, student numbers continue to rise in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), according to the early projections of assistant superintendent Ann Feldman.
Feldman reported her findings at an Oct. 25 session of the ICCSD board of education.
At the elementary schools, Feldman counted 291.5 staff members, but, she said “that’s homeroom teachers; there are a lot of other teachers, librarians, counselors, and instructional coaches” also on the payroll.
She presented a new set of data in the form of a class size frequency chart to show how the district had used its teachers in a range of class sizes.
“We have the same number of teachers. [These] projections served to help us distribute those same number of teachers as opposed to generate a number of teachers,” Feldman said. “For staffing purposes, these are the numbers we’re going to use.”
For last year’s K-2 grades, there were 63 classes containing 24 or more students. By better distributing staff, this year the district was able to bring the number of K-2 classes with 24 or more students down to 28.
Class sizes for K-2 grades ranged from 13 students to 27 students.
In third through sixth grade, the largest class size in the district is filled with 33 students; the smallest is18. There are 23 classes with exactly 25 students, the most common class size for third-sixth grade.
The largest class sizes in the district are at West High, where as many as 36 students are taught math, science and foreign language in one classroom.
Feldman will receive official numbers from the Iowa Department of Education in November to reconcile the district’s books and further allocate staff and resources.
Board president Marla Swesey asked her if the administration gave recommendations to building principals on allocating staff for their schools. Feldman explained that the district no longer allows principals the discretion of assigning less than half time positions. Rather, the district administration combines fractional positions and distributes them accordingly throughout the district. “There’s a lot less discretion (for principals) than there used to be. It’s pretty cut and dried.”
Superintendent Stephen Murley said, “This year we had a zero-percent increase in allowable growth– that equates to 20 teachers; we’ve been shorted, by the state, 20 teachers that we could otherwise distribute” in the district. Despite the shortage of teacher funds, ICCSD had tried to hold the same number of staff. Murley also said next year the district could lose another 17 teacher, when the funding from an education jobs program ends.
“We, collectively, as a team, are somewhat leery about extending ourselves too far,” he said.
The board did its final reading of an amended Management Information System (MIS) report schedule. The MIS sets dates for annual reports like Feldman’s Class Size Report, plus Enrollment, Demographic, and the Annual Redistricting reports.
The board had its first reading of its new language on the Senior Year Plus (SYP) policy. SYP is the Iowa Department of Education’s program for qualifying students who earn college credit before receiving their high school diplomas. The district will set a minimum student proficiency standard for SYP eligibility in each of three disciplines.
Reporting for the Communications Committee, board member Sally Hoelscher recommended that a volunteer recognition program be started at regular board meetings to thank the scores of volunteers that help out at schools. Hoelscher said the group would ask principals to choose someone from each building for consideration.
In other business, the ICCSD Foundation’s account received a nice deposit from Hills Bank. Roger Riley of Hills Bank presented $18,606.23 to Victoria Gilpin, executive director of the ICCSD Foundation, a non-profit fundraising and grant-making organization for the schools. Hills Bank’s “Classroom Cash” program automatically makes a donation to a customer’s designated school district whenever he or she uses a Hills Bank debit card.