By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN About 30 people attended the April 27 Delano School Board meeting to lobby for another fourth-grade teacher for the 2015-16 school year. They learned funding is not currently available to fulfill their request.
“Our class sizes are 28 students in one classroom, 27 in four, and 26 in another,” parent Rachel Depa said of the current third-grade classes. That compares to the Minnesota average of 23.7 elementary students per classroom, and the national average of 20.3, Depa said.
“We approached (Delano Elementary School Principal) Mr. (Darren) Schuler about the issue and he seems to genuinely care about our concerns, but he said he doesn’t have the funding for another full time equivalent teacher,” Depa said.
She suggested the school board make a policy to establish a maximum class size for Delano schools.
Establishing smaller class sizes would have several benefits, Depa said.
“According to the National Council of Teachers of English, overall research shows students in smaller classes perform better in all subjects and all assessments when compared to their peers in larger classes,” Depa said.
She relayed that studies show students in smaller class sizes tend to be as much as one to two months ahead on content knowledge and score higher on standardized tests.
In addition to academic benefits, Depa also touted small class sizes as a way to improve student engagement, with students participating and interacting better with their teachers in smaller classes.
“Students display less disruptive behavior, which was a complaint we had last year about this class,” Depa said. “Teachers spend less time on discipline, leaving more time for instruction.”
Students also spend less time off task or disengaged, and have more access to technology in smaller classes, Depa said.
After reviewing benefits of small class sizes, Depa said, “All these studies back up what common sense tells us: If we take a valuable resource like our teachers and stretch them as thin as possible, we are not using our resources the best way we can.”
School Board Chair Amy Johnson thanked the parents for sharing their concerns and explained how the school board approaches staffing.
“We do set a policy within the constraints of the budget, based on referendum tax dollars that are voted on by the community to say, ‘This is how much we support the overall commitment of funding programs, which includes curriculum and staffing,’” Johnson said.
She said class sizes were smaller six years ago before substantial cuts, due to the recession, increased class sizes.
“We have been able to get some relief from that with some referendums that were approved, but certainly not to go back to being able to support the class sizes that were afforded six and more years ago,” Johnson said.
She also clarified that, while the board approves the budget, it has never dictated specific grade configurations.
Parent Brad Felknor asked who would take responsibility if it is learned that the large classes performed substantially worse than the class before them.
“If there’s an achievement gap, how are we going to fix it?” Felknor asked. “We’ve tried large class sizes and it didn’t work. Are we going to try it again?”
Superintendent Matt Schoen offered to meet with the parents after the board meeting to discuss their concerns.
Since the meeting, a Facebook page titled “Delano Parents of the class of 2024 Lets Fund a Teacher” has been established.
Later in the school board meeting, Schoen noted the district is projected to deficit spend for the next two years.
“How much (we deficit spend) is going to be dependent on the state,” Schoen said. “The governor’s proposal for state funding for the next biennium for education is a 1.5 percent increase. That requires us to continue to cut or deficit spend down the fund balance. Get a hold of your representatives, senators, and the governor. Make sure your voices are heard loud and clear.”
Board member Carolyn Milano directed district residents to visit www.schoolsforequity.org to find draft letters to be sent to the governor and legislators.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• approved several personnel matters, including the resignation of DES Assistant Principal Corey Lahr, effective June 30. Schuler said 51 applicants have applied for the job.
• accepted the following gifts: $2,445 from DPIE for the auditorium project, $2,000 from Franklin Township for summer recreation programs, $1,529 from the Wrestling Booster Club for a booster-paid coach, $670 from the Wells Fargo Foundation with no conditions, $670 from Wells Fargo Community Support with no conditions, $506 from DPIE for a high school drinking fountain, and $480 from Delano High School PIE for a computer for SciTech.
• approved the first and only reading of the following policies due to non-substantive and/or legal reference changes: Policy 532, regarding the use of peace officers and crisis teams to remove students with IEPs from school grounds and Policy 709, which is the student transportation safety policy.
• approved the first reading of the following policies due to substantive and/or legal reference changes: Policy 205, regarding open and closed meetings; Policy 406, regarding public and private personnel data; Policy 421, regarding gifts to employees and school board members; and Policy 618, regarding assessment of student achievement.
Visit photos.delanoherald journal.com/April-27-School-Board to see a video of Depa’s presentation to the school board.