|Belvedere Elementary School, one of the high-needs schools in Mason that could be hurt if the class size resolution is passed.|
The resolution, passed by the MCA March 4, includes several provisions aimed at reducing class sizes in the McLean area, where some elementary schools have as many as 35 students. It calls for the school board to equalize class sizes throughout FCPS, so the average elementary school would have class sizes between 21 and 25 students.
School board member Sandy Evans (Mason) said she is “very concerned” about this proposal. If the resolution is approved by the school board, “it would harm our schools tremendously.”
“Needs-based staffing is critical, and the school board has supported it for many years,” Evans said. While she said she is sympathetic to schools with vary large class sizes, it’s “unacceptable” to take away resources from schools in Mason.
The issue is likely to come up during FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza’s listening tour session at Falls Church High School, March 10, 6:30 p.m.
The school board is planning to consider class size this spring, so it’s important that Garza and board members hear from families concerned about the need to provide sufficient resources to schools with large numbers of high-needs students. The MCA resolution has been sent to school board members, Fairfax County supervisors, Garza, and other FCPS and county officials.
The resolution calls for the school board to “modify the elementary school staffing formula so that each school’s budgeted average general education class cannot be less than 21 students or more than 25 students, including Level 2 special education students assigned part-time to those general education classes.”
It also urges the school board to “establish a new goal of ensuring that average class sizes for schools within each of the elementary, middle, and high school categories are consistent, to the extent practicable, within FCPS.” And it proposes additional funding to reduce large classes.
A cursory look at the “capacity and enrollment dashboard” on the FCPS website shows that several elementary schools in the Annandale/Mason area appear to have an average class sizes of less than 21, including Annandale Terrace, Bailey’s, Bailey’s Upper, Belvedere, Glen Forest, Parklawn, Sleepy Hollow, Weyanoke, and Woodburn.
According to the resolution, changing the staffing formula to eliminate classes with 20 or fewer students would “reduce the amount spent on needs-based staffing, the number of students assigned to trailers, and potentially reduce the need for future additions and new schools.”
“We don’t want to get rid of needs-based staffing,” said MCA President Sally Horn. “What we’re saying is, within existing resources, provide for a greater degree of equity.” She notes that some classrooms in the McLean area have as many as 35 students, which is “excessive,” no matter how well off the area is, while there are schools in other areas with just 11 to 15. “That’s too great a discrepancy.”
The resolution wouldn’t set limits on individual classes; rather, it would set a ceiling and floor for the average class size at each elementary school, said Louise Epstein, vice chair of MCA’s Education and Youth Committee.
The MCA commends Garza for taking steps to improve the accuracy of school-level enrollment projections and increase oversight over principals who trade classroom positions for non-teaching positions.