Supers like proposal to decrease class sizes

Published 12:34 am Saturday, March 4, 2017

Superintendents say they are in favor of lawmakers taking steps to lower the class sizes in the elementary grades.

Earlier this week, the House education budget committee discussed trying to find ways to lower divisors, which is how the state determines how many teachers the state pays for in each grade at each school.

The divisors were raised for fiscal year 2012 when the state was battling financial problems.

The higher the divisor, the larger the class size.

To determine how many teacher units are funded by the state’s Foundation Program, the number of students in a grade at a school is divided by the divisor.

In recent years, the divisor for K-3 is 14.25, before 2012, it was 13.80.

For grades 4-6, the divisor is 21.85. It was 21.40.

The junior high and high school grades saw some relief in this current fiscal year, when lawmakers lowered the divisors by one-half point.

Covington County Schools Superintendent Shannon Driver said he hopes that the legislature will make the change at the fourth through sixth grade levels.

“We got a small adjustment last year,” he said of the seventh through 12th grades. “Getting the divisors lowered in those middle areas would be a big plus.”

Driver said he didn’t know what the numbers would possibly be.

“Don’t know exactly what it would mean for us yet,” he said. “But any improvement would mean some additional teaching units and we welcome any help.”

Driver said that it would hopefully help reduce class sizes.

“For example if you had two sections in fourth grade, you could possibly have three sections,” he said. “We could definitely handle more teachers at our schools.”

Driver said there would be space at all the schools to handle additional teachers.

“It would probably be spread over our nine schools,” he said. “It may only be a fraction of a teaching unit. It’s hard to know if it would make a sizeable difference. It’s hard to speculate until they put out some real numbers.”

Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Ted Watson said he was in favor of lowering the divisors, especially at the middle grades.

“It would allow increased one-to-one interaction with students and teachers, which would greatly help our academic learning,” he said. “This is especially helpful at the middle grades where the number of students per classroom tends to be greater.”

Opp City Schools Superintendent Michael Smithart said he was in favor of lowering the divisors.

“I think the greatest benefit would be to lower the divisors in the middle grades,” he said. “We have far too many middle and junior high schools that are suffering from overcrowded classrooms. We could definitely use some relief in that area here locally. A change in the divisors could be beneficial in so many areas.”

Smithart said that it could possibly allow them to offer more electives.

“Divisors are not just about class sizes,” he said. “Additional staff leads to greater opportunities for enrichment and specialization instruction.”

In Opp, Pre-K through fourth grade are housed at Opp Elementary School; fifth through eight grade attend the middle school and ninth through 12th.