Class sizes take center stage in Park City school board race
The school year hasn’t ended yet in Park City, but next year’s class sizes have already become a talking point in the school board race.
According to state data, the median class size at McPolin Elementary School is 34 students. But both state and local school officials say that number is wrong: It incorrectly doubles the number of students in the school’s dual language immersion classes.
That error — or, as a state data official called it, that “disaggregation misunderstanding” — applies to apparently all of the dual language immersion classes in Park City. It potentially skews the numbers for any school where the dual language program is offered, including all four elementary schools.
The errors in the state’s median class size reports date back two years. The data itself comes from the school district; the state does not audit class sizes. The State Board of Education performs an annual enrollment audit, the board’s chief audit executive said, but that focuses on issues like whether students who are on Park City’s rolls actually attend school in the district.
Overall, the district’s enrollment is declining. Still, union leader Mary Morgan told the Board of Education last week that teachers are tracking the potential crowding issue closely.
“Class sizes continue to be a No. 1 concern, and (the Park City Education Association) will be in conversations with the (district office) over the summer as we all keep an eye on student numbers,” Morgan said.
Class sizes could increase significantly if the district isn’t able to hire enough teachers. Mike Tanner, the district’s chief operations officer, said the district has already hired 30 licensed professionals this year and is trying to hire 24 more.
Business Manager Todd Hauber said there are around 360 licensed professionals in the district, putting this year’s turnover already at around 15%. That’s higher than the 10%-12% Hauber said the district usually sees. According to a report delivered to the state Legislature last year, the statewide teacher turnover average is 9.2% since 2012.
At last week’s Park City school board meeting, Hauber explained the process administrators use to keep class sizes near the guidelines the district has had in place for years. Those guidelines call for 23 students per class in elementary schools and 25 students per class in secondary grade levels.
Hauber said the district examines the cohort of students coming up through the grades to form a basis for the next year’s classes. How many first-graders there are, for example, guides the district’s projection of how many second-graders there will be the following year.
Superintendent Jill Gildea told the board that 1,700 families have yet to enroll in school for next year, hampering projection efforts. Hauber said enrollment data doesn’t really come into focus until later in the summer.
“The challenge really is, when we're above — let’s do the elementary scenario — when we're above the 23:1, and we're getting to 25 and to 26 and we're still in the summer and know more people are going to come, and get to 27, we get anxious," Hauber said. "At every level, we're anxious watching that. Because we don't know quite yet who all is exiting. There could be one student or no students exit, so we really have a class of 28 or 29. That's not acceptable.”
School board candidate Nick Hill wrote in an open letter that many parents are concerned about increasing class sizes and the district's continuing loss of experienced teachers. He called on the board to release historical and projected class size data.
Another candidate, Josh Mann, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that he’s heard from many teachers who are concerned about rising class numbers. He asked the board to commit to capping the number of students in a class.
Board Member Andrew Caplan, whose seat is not up for election, said the board can’t do that. Caplan said the board works to meet the community’s desire for low class sizes.
“The idea that Jeremy Ranch is going to have classes with over 30 kids, or any other elementary school for that matter, it's not going to happen. And if we get to August and we have a class where it's big, we'll find another teacher or we’ll pull an aid or we’ll do something. And it happens every summer,” Caplan said.
Ballots go out for the school board primary June 7.