Evanston/Skokie School District 65 officials have recommended a system for saving money, beginning with next year’s budget, by increasing maximum class sizes by up to five students if April’s $14.5 million operating referendum should fail to win voter approval.
The increases would come over a two-year period. In the first year, the average class size would increase by three, while the following year, classes would be five students greater than current guidelines would permit.
The plan was introduced Monday night to the Policy Committee of the district’s Board of Education by the district’s research director, Peter Godard.
The referendum is on the ballot for the April 4 city and school board election, but Superintendent Paul Goren said he is hopeful that the board will approve the recommendation at a March meeting as a contingency measure, just in case the referendum should fail.
The savings would come from hiring fewer teachers and teaching assistants the next two budget years. Godard said the plan is expected to result in a reduction of seven class sections and a savings of $560,000 the first year, followed by a reduction of an additional 10 sections and a savings of an additional $800,000 the following year.
He cautioned that the estimates of savings are contingent on changes in enrollment matching the administration’s estimates
The new guidelines would result in maximum class sizes ranging from 28 at the kindergarten level up to 32 at the fourth and fifth grades. If a class should exceed the guidelines by two or more students, the district would allocate additional teachers or teachers’ aids, Godard said.
The plan that was recommended, which the administration calls a Limited School Choice program, would offer families the opportunity to apply for magnet schools, magnet programs, or permissive transfers, which would help the district to allocate students among schools.
It was considered less disruptive than two other alternatives—an Open Enrollment Policy and a Cap and Transfer Policy.
Under Open Enrollment, families would rank district schools based on personal preference during kindergarten and new student registration. Students would be assigned to schools in a manner that allows the greatest number of families to enroll in their first choice while maintaining balanced classroom sizes throughout the district.
Priority for enrollment in a school of choice would be given to children with siblings already enrolled at the school and children that live within the attendance area. To implement an Open Enrollment policy would require an investment in sophisticated, customized software, Godard said.
Under a Cap and Transfer Policy, Godard explained, the majority of students would attend their neighborhood school, but once a maximum class size is met, additional students would be prohibited from registering at that school.
This alternative was rejected, Godard said, because it would penalize late-registering students, who tend to be more likely black or Hispanic and more likely to be homeless, English learners, or from low-income families.
“As a result,” he wrote in an accompanying memo, “a cap and transfer policy would disproportionately affect populations who we are intentionally trying to provide with better opportunities.”
After explalning their recommendation to the committee, Godard and Goren emphasized that the changes would not be implemented if the referendum should be approved, but it was part of their contingency plan that would require a number of changes within a brief period of time if the referendum should fail.
Goren said the class size guidelines should be on the agenda for consideration by the full board at its March 20 meeting.