Hampton classroom sizes studied, proposed budget approved
The final proposed budget for 2018-19 was unanimously approved by the Hampton Township School Board last week, along with discussion and a review on classroom sizes.
The proposed final budget reflects revenues of $51,042,602, expenditures of $52,279,844 and a utilization of $649,000 from the district's own Public School Employees' Retirement System stabilization fund and $250,000 from the unassigned fund balance. A real estate tax rate increase from 18.77 mills to 18.98 mills, a .21 mills or 1.12 percent change, is proposed.
Some changes from April's proposed preliminary budget include reduction to only one-full time ESL educator instead of two due to lower projected enrollment, and Hampton's share of the A.W. Beattie Career Center budget reduced by $24,273 to a total of $653,058.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Loughead also relayed a recent visit to several elementary classrooms. He said he wanted to get a feel for how the students and teachers were functioning at the current class sizes, in terms of student population and actual size of the rooms, with a particular focus on the fourth and fifth grades. And he wanted to gauge what they were proposing for the coming school year.
Several parents recently voiced concern on elementary school class sizes, particularly at next year's fifth grade.
Amy Soloman, who has three children in Wyland Elementary, including a son in fourth grade, commented at the May 6 meeting that she hopes the board adjusts the budget to accommodate lower class sizes in the fifth grade.
She said when he was in third grade and the classes were in the high 20s, it was a challenge for him. Now in fourth grade, in a room with 21 students, it's helped him academically. She's concerned that going back to a higher population in fifth grade might be challenging for him and other students.
“I truly believe with my son's case it comes down to numbers,” said Soloman, noting that smaller classes help students and teachers to connect better. “The classroom feels better. It's more of a creative environment.”
Loughead spent an entire day visiting fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms at the schools, particularly those with 27 students at Wyland and Central, and requesting the teachers to have a normal day while he was there.
After observing structured and unstructured activity, he felt that those rooms did physically accommodate the number of students well and is comfortable with what is being proposed for next year. And he was impressed with how well the students handled themselves behaviorally in the classrooms.
Suggestions also have been made of hiring paraeducators to assist in larger classrooms.
His discussions with teachers indicated they were comfortable teaching classes with 27 students. However, they would support assistance in the case of a student who may need much more individual attention.
Loughead said teachers and principals said it's more important to have lower student populations in the lower grades.
Also, reviewing test data at these grade levels, he didn't notice anything that would give them significant pause that these sizes were going to have a negative effect on the students academically. And data actually showed positive growth prior to the reduction of class size in the current 2017-18 year.
Overall, he said after much review and discussion with teachers, he was comfortable with the present recommendations regarding the budget.
“It's very important we do what's right for our kids,” said Loughead.
Enrollment numbers at these grades can fluctuate between now and the beginning of the school year, so they continue to monitor the rooms.
He also thanked the feedback he receives from parents in the district.
“I appreciate the passion and concern from our families. That's why we have such a great district,” he said.
Natalie Beneviat is a Tribune-Review contributor.