SD2 board talks strategy for fixing crowded classrooms

2013-03-25T23:17:00Z 2013-05-08T20:03:07Z SD2 board talks strategy for fixing crowded classroomsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Trustees are feeling the squeeze.

At their Monday night meeting, School District 2 trustees heard from administrators and a dozen elementary school principals about the district's crowded classroom conditions and possible solutions.

John English, the principal at Bitterroot Elementary, told trustees his school is looking at 77 new kindergartners next year. The school is already maxed out, he said, so they've decided to divide up the school's library into classrooms to make more room.

Riverside Middle School will take on three classes of sixth-graders from surrounding elementary schools to alleviate space constraints there. Riverside will move teachers out of their classrooms and assign them teaching carts to accommodate the sixth-graders, who will move into those classrooms.

Enrollment throughout the district's elementary schools is expected to increase again this fall, placing more strain on the schools. Currently, 93 classrooms in the elementary school district have a higher student/teacher ratio than what the state allows. Without a change, the number will increase to 109 classrooms this fall.

"This is a crisis," Superintendent Terry Bouck told the trustees. "We have no more time."

Part of the board's plan to address the problem is the $1 million general fund levy up for election in May. The levy will be used exclusively to hire additional teachers for the elementary schools, which would help reduce the high student/teacher ratios.

Bringing in the new teachers and a handful of aides, the district could reduce the number of over-sized classrooms in the elementary schools to 54.

Part of the plan would include enacting what the state Public Board of Education calls the "alternative standard." A school district operating under alternative standard has the flexibility to use team teaching to reduce student/teacher ratios in big classrooms.

The alternative standard would also allow the district flexibility to use "push-in" teachers -- educators who hop from class to class to aid the classroom teachers in covering core content.

Last summer, Bouck, along with board Chairwoman Teresa Stroebe and then-interim Superintendent Jack Copps, appeared before the state Public Board of Education to address SD2's overcrowded classrooms. It has put the district's accreditation with the state in jeopardy.

The state board wants to see the district making progress on the issue. There's no expectation that SD2 solve all its problems within a year, Bouck said. By going after the levy, adopting the alternative standard and hiring new teachers, SD2 is doing just that, he said.

That puts a lot of pressure on the district to pass the levy in May. If the levy fails, the district won't be able to hire new teachers and it will be stuck trying to accommodate hundreds of new students.

"We'll be left trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat," Bouck said.

Near the end of the meeting, trustees tried to figure out how best to perform Bouck's first evaluation as new superintendent. The deadline to have the evaluation finished -- set in Bouck's contract -- is May 15.

"I have a lot of heartburn over this," Trustee Connie Wardell said.

She believes the goals that trustees put together at the beginning of the year for Bouck are too broad and would be a poor basis for an evaluation.

The board voted to meet again within the next two weeks to figure out the process it would use to evaluate Bouck and what elements they would use.

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