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McDuffie to ask for class size assistance

The numbers are in, and some McDuffie County classrooms are not meeting the Truth in Class Size Act which went into effect in July.

According to Superintendent Mark Petersen, McDuffie County has been juggling first grade students to accommodate the maximum 21 allowed in the classroom. At the December School Board planning meeting, Dr. Petersen said Maxwell and Thomson Elementary Schools have had to cross zones four different times this year to stay within the numbers.

In the past, individual schools were allowed to be over the maximum number of students as long as the whole system met the average. Under the new act, each class in each school must be within the limitations, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Schools Stuart Bennett said during a conference call in August.

That leaves McDuffie County in a financial lurch - with local taxpayers possibly bearing the brunt.

Dr. Petersen said Dearing Elementary now has two first grade classrooms with 22 students and one with 21. The state funds a teacher for every 17 students. Dr. Petersen said dividing the 65 first graders at DES between four teachers would leave him with 16.25 students in each class, meaning the local tax payers would have to pay for the teachers.

"They will give you one teacher for every 17 students, and if I add that teacher, my class size is below 17, so I will have to absorb that locally. It doesn't make any sense to me," he said.

And McDuffie County is not alone.

During their planning retreat in August, members of the School Board listened to the conference call with State Superintendent Kathy Cox, in which other system superintendents called in with the same problem. The state recently approved a similar request for Richmond County.

The State School Board began a waiver application process that started in November. At the December board meeting, Dr. Petersen asked local board members to submit a resolution and apply for a waiver from the requirement.

Not only is Dr. Petersen concerned about the financial impact of a new class, he is also considering the effect it will have on the young students. Dr. Petersen said he will have to take five students from two of the current classrooms and four from another to make up the new class.

"I can't see tearing up 14 children from their teacher that they've bonded with this whole year, and I won't do it," he said in an interview.

If the state board does not grant the waiver, Dr. Petersen said he will hire the additional teacher, but he will place that teacher in the current established classroom, meaning there will be two teachers meeting the ratio, and the students will remain in a familiar setting.

"We are not going to do what's wrong for boys and girls; that's the bottom line," Dr. Petersen said. "That's how we've approached this, and how we've worked with our situation. If it's good for boys and girls, we are going to do it. We don't work for the convenience of adults. We work for boys and girls."

The local board unanimously approved the recommendation, and Dr. Petersen said the application has been mailed to the state office.

Web posted on Thursday, December 28, 2006

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