FCPS’s School Board is looking into class size caps for elementary schools starting next school year. The proposal would limit classes to 27 students for grades 1-3 and 30 students for grades 4-6.
The school system has no set maximum class size, but classes in some area schools have pushed beyond 30 students in a cost-savings measure in recent years.
It was a popular complaint by Reston-area parents when FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza brought her Superintendent’s Listening Tour to Hunters Woods Elementary School in December.
“This is a major, major issue,” one Aldrin Elementary School parent told Garza. “My daughter’s math class is 36. Teachers have gone above and beyond the call of duty. At some point, they are going to be tapped out and can only go so far.”
State regulations allow up to 30 students per class in grades 1-3 and up to 35 students in 4-6.
Last year, the school system approved increased class sizes in order to balance the budget deficit. FCPS allowed for an additional 0.5 students per teacher for elementary and middle schools and 1.0 student per teacher for high schools. The changes allowed FCPS to cut 225 teaching positions, whcih saved $16.4 million.
But that was the third time since 2009 that ratios have been raised in order to save money.
The FCPS average elementary school has 23.5 students, the school system says. Out of 3,505 elementary classes countywide, 393 (11 percent) are above the proposed class size ceilings, according to an analysis by The Fairfax Times.
The school system’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016 shows $3.1 million to support smaller class sizes. The School Board will present its budget to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 7.
School Board At-Large Member Ryan McElveen says smaller classes will allow decrease teacher workload an enable FCPS to put additional resources towards classrooms with the greatest needs.
“As financial resources have become scarcer and scarcer over the past few years, we’ve had to rely on increasing class size to balance our budget,” he said. “And, to no one’s surprise, those years of cuts have created oversized classes, particularly at the elementary level where class size has the greatest impact on student achievement.
“FCPS decided to institute class size caps to provide a universal standard that allows us to target resources to schools with high class sizes using our staffing reserve without disadvantaging those classrooms with higher percentages of FRM and ESOL students,” said McElveen. “By working to slowly bring class sizes back down to a manageable level, we will help decrease the workload of our overburdened teachers and also allow for increased differentiation and individual attention, which is so important particularly for our younger students.”
Kindergarteners at Lake Anne ES/file photo