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Port Parents Critical Of Class Sizes

Parents concerned about classroom sizes spoke up at the Port Washington Board of Education meeting, as the board passed an approval of the larger sizes.

Parents spoke of class sizes at the district’s elementary being in the mid 20s, an amount they felt compromised the quality of their children’s education.

“The board of education changed our children’s education for the worse,” said one mother of larger average class sizes the board had approved last year. The comment drew clapping from the audience.

But one parent said it just wasn’t feasible to downsize classroom head counts. “The dollars spent to reduce class sizes and hire more teachers would take piles of money,” he said.

The subject came up because the board, as an agenda item, had to approve the class sizes that were either over or under the class size policy for the district. Class size for the elementary schools average 22.2 students per classroom. The actual maximum for some of the classes exceeds the board’s policy, which varies depending on the grade and subject.

However, 92% of classrooms are within the authorized sizes. If any classes exceed the allowed sizes or are below the allowed sizes the board must formally approve the larger and smaller classes, according to its bylaws.

The board voted unanimously to approve the higher classroom sizes, but members said they were doing so reluctantly.

“As we prepare next year’s budget we will take all this into consideration,” said Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Mooney. “We hear what’s going on,” she told the parents.

During the meeting, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Wafa Westervelt showed that Schreiber students are still excelling. She said that for the last three years, students have done very well when taking Math and English Regents exams, with passing rates close to 100%, higher than the state and county averages, as well as comparable with neighboring districts. For instance, 97% of students passed last June’s Math Regents, 97% the year before and 96% in 2011.

Schreiber students “are incredibly bright,” Dr. Westervelt said. “They are also  extremely talented.”  

The school board is also looking into setting up a capital reserve fund so it can spread out the cost of improvements it needs to make to the school grounds and buildings.

The fund would not mean more taxes, but be a way of building a savings account, so to speak, if it turned out something like the Schreiber football field needed to be re-turfed, Board member Alan Baer said.

“Rather than say we need $1 million in a single budget year,” the money would be built up over time from excess dollars left over in the prior year’s budget, Baer said.

Instituting a capital reserve would require voter approval by Port residents, most likely when they vote on the school budget.