Iowa City school district faces increasing class sizes, fewer teachers


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Teaching jobs may be on the chopping block again, Iowa City School Board officials said this week.

Growing class sizes call for more teachers, but with continued budget cuts, officials say they need to look at other options to deal with the demands.

At their meeting Tuesday night, School Board members said they were attempting to distribute staff differently rather than creating additional teaching positions in the district.

This past spring, officials faced the potential of laying off several teaching positions because of budget cuts. The 22 full-time-equivalent positions were saved because of a decrease in the general-fund budget from 5 percent to 3 percent, which saved $2.5 million, enough for the 22 positions.

Now the board says it again faces the potential of cutting 17 positions because of increased class sizes.

Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann said this year, there are 100 additional students in the elementary schools.

Although officials can't say approximately what schools have the largest classes, the class sizes are about the same as the previous academic year, said Superintendent Steve Murley.

Though board members see the growth as positive, it also tightens the school budget.

"Class sizes are growing as costs decrease disproportionately with our increases in spending authority," Murley said.

Feldmann said the actual enrollment for the 2011-12 school year is higher than the projected estimate, recorded in the Iowa City School Elementary Projected Enrollment report.

"For the first time, when we did staffing, we were working with what we thought was a dire situation," Feldmann said.

School Board member Jeff McGiness said the biggest challenge is where to begin.

"It's hard to say." McGiness said, "We need to hire more teachers, but we need to find more creative solutions to do this."

Though the board was able to attain funding to hold on to teaching positions last year, McGiness said, money now is needed to maintain student growth.

Officials expect to face the same problem of saving teaching positions as they did last school year.

But the school system has received federal funding in the past, and McGuiness said he hopes that will continue this year.

The School District received a grant in 2009-10 for $975,139 to support special-needs programs. In 2010-11, there was an increase in the grant, giving the district $1,685,007, McGiness said.

Some elementary schools such as Weber and Lincoln are trying to accommodate the larger classes by creating multi-age classrooms. These classrooms conjoin grades — such as fifth and sixth at Weber — to help teachers better accommodate different learning levels.

The method is easier for schools to maintain grades rather than separating grade levels, board members said.

Murley said the board could also step up legislative activity to attain more funds.

Next year, the School District expects to receive a 2 percent increase in federal funds, he said. But the district needs a 3 percent increase.

And if there isn't more of an increase, "cuts will be made," Murley said.

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