Recently, Monona Grove Elementary teacher Jeff Knudson was the "star" of an ad for Scott Walker. Mr. Knutson looked directly into the camera and made this claim:
We figured if we didn’t get laid off, our class sizes would become unmanageable, but that didn’t happen.”
“The numbers at Monona Grove clearly don’t work. We struggled to put together a budget this year, we made significant cuts in terms of programs, laid-off teachers… we closed a building. Next year, quite frankly, will be brutal.”
Well the most recent MGSD school board meeting brings Mr. Knutson’s lack of understanding of our district into even more focus. The main focus of the meeting was was that class sizes are a serious concern.
“We have some eye-poppers for specific classes, primarily at the high school,” said Monona Grove Superintendent Craig Gerlach.
Lets take a look at some of those numbers:
In four-year-old kindergarten (4K), class sizes range from 17 students to 19 students. The district guideline for 4K class sizes is 12-18 students per class. There is one morning section that is over the maximum guideline by one student.
The guideline for kindergarten is 16-23 students per class. The current sections of kindergarten at Taylor Prairie School have range from 21 students to 22 students. First grade classes at Taylor Prairie range between 21 students and 23 students. The district guideline for first grade is 17-24 students.
Second grade classes at Taylor Prairie currently have 22-23 students, and the district guideline suggests anywhere from 17-24 students.
There are two sections of second grade at the maximum 24 students, and two sections at 22 students. The suggested maximum class size for third grade is 25 students per section. Cottage Grove Principal Deb Lyons said out of eight sections, seven are at 22 students per class, and one is at 20. The fourth grade maximum according to district guidelines is 26 students, and the sections currently are at 21-24 students.
Second grade sections have the highest enrollment, with one section at the maximum of 24 and three sections at 23. Third grade ranges between 19-21; fourth grade has 21 students in each section; and fifth grade ranges between 18-21.
The board looked at the homeroom classes at Glacial Drumlin Middle School. Fifth and sixth grade classes follow the district’s elementary guidelines with a maximum of 26 students in each class. Fifth grade ranges between 25 and 26 students; sixth grade had nine sections, and some of them are over the suggested 26 maximum
The guideline for seventh grade was changed last year, and the maximum class size suggested for seventh grade is now 30 students to a class. This year, there are eight sections of seventh grade that range from 23-27 students. The maximum for eighth grade is also 30, and there are eight homeroom classes that range between 26-28.
Where we are falling under the “guidelines” we are bursting at the seems. Let’s also remember that the “guidelines” have been increased beyond where they should be to begin with. Which leads to the question of what do we do to fix this problem. Right now thanks to Governor Walker’s and the republican’s drastic cuts to education, there is no other option. Increase class sizes or cut more programs or both.
There is a consensus though – we are in serious trouble and it is going to get worse:
“It is difficult,” Monona Grove principal Paul Brost said. “Teachers have done a good job handling it. It isn’t ideal. I’m concerned about next year with the coming cuts.”
Board member Susan Manning said the larger class sizes was a direct effect of the $1 million deficit the district is facing.
“This is one of the direct effects of the million dollar deficit. If that’s going to be OK for this community, then don’t encourage us to go to referendum,” she said. “And accept that that’s how your student will be taught. That’s not good enough for me.”
“Higher class sizes is going to affect student learning,” Gerlach said. “If we reduce class sizes, something else has to go. I’ve told staff to budget to the max. If you don’t want me to do that, we have to change the guidelines. The only way to minimize cuts is to increase class sizes. If we’re going to decrease class sizes, we have to cut something else. It’s painful, but it’s our task at hand.”
Gerlach said if class sizes were lowered, the board would have to look at cutting programs. “There’s nothing else to cut,” he said.
Board President Susan Fox said the board is potentially looking at a referendum for next year.
“The public needs to understand what these cuts in education have done,” Fox said. “We’ve been able to balance the budget because that’s what we’re required to do, but what’s missed is what’s been lost.”
The question we will be faced with at the upcoming recall election’s will be: Is it working. The answer is yes and no.
If you are a supporter of dismanteling free public education to be replaced by privatized education then yes the education “reforms” are working. If you believe, like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that free quality public education is incredibly important and a cornerstone of our society then by no means is republican education policy working. Its a clear contrast.
What say you Mr. Knutson?
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