The Press-Citizen reports today on the school board’s proposed new caps on class size. Both the article and the quotes from the superintendent leave the reader with the impression that the only thing preventing the district from implementing the caps is lack of space. In fact, lack of money to pay additional teachers is the real constraint.
I applied the proposed caps to last year’s elementary school enrollment numbers, school by school, and grade by grade (using the data here). To meet the caps, the district would have needed 333 general education classes. The district actually had about 319 gen-ed classes. So, to meet the caps, it would have needed about 14 more classroom teachers – and that’s just at the elementary level. There were schools that did not meet the caps but had available classrooms (for example, Borlaug). The only thing that stopped the district from having smaller classes in those schools was lack of money to pay the teachers.
By contrast, space constraints currently play a more limited role. The district would have needed 333 gen-ed classrooms to meet the caps. The district currently has 405 total elementary school classrooms, not counting temporaries. Even reserving four rooms in each building for art, music, and other uses, the district had 329 classrooms to work with. The bigger problem was that the classrooms weren’t necessarily in the schools where the students were, because it’s been so long since some attendance areas were adjusted.
The number of classrooms needed in each building under the caps would vary each year with even minor changes in enrollment, so additional wiggle room would be nice. And of course, enrollment will grow, so eventually we’ll need even more space (though whether that adds up to three new elementaries is another question). But all the additional classrooms in the world won’t create money to hire fourteen new teachers (and more at the secondary level). It’s constraints on hiring, not constraints on space, that make the class size caps challenging.
At the high school level, constraints on space are more of a factor. (The same data about number of classrooms just isn’t available, so it’s hard to assess in as much detail.) But again, additional space won’t create the money to hire additional teachers.
And, again, even under the caps, the existing classrooms can (and will) hold more students than the consultants’ new capacity determinations would permit.