Janis Sartucci is upset. The coordinator for the Churchill Cluster PTA doesn’t understand why Beverly Farms Elementary is losing teachers when some other schools in the county are not.
“My confusion here is why they’re not applying the guidelines equally across the schools,” Sartucci said.
The problem is countywide, notes Board of Education president Pat O’Neill.
“Beverly Farms is not alone,” she said noting a loss of 60 positions. “There are reductions all over the county.”
The Elementary School is losing three teachers and half a Kindergarten teacher next year. Churchill’s Community Superintendent, Mark Kelsch, the administrator who makes staffing decisions in the cluster said that it’s all about enrollment. Beverly Farms had been, according to Montgomery County Public Schools guidelines, right on in terms of student-teacher ratios.
“Their actual enrollment has dropped a bit,” Kelsch said.
Sartucci believes that the school should still be entitled to the teachers. “We really shouldn’t be that far off from the guidelines,” she said.
Current guidelines call for Kindergarten classes of 25 students, first to third grade of 28 and fourth and fifth of 30.
“The guidelines have been kind of raised in Elementary,” Kelsch said.
The loss of the three teachers will force fourth and fifth grade to be combined into one class.
Two issues which complicate the equation are students in special education programs and students in “at-risk” schools. The first group are not counted in the staffing guidelines numbers and the second have smaller class sizes. “The school has a lot of learning disabled students,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15). Feldman has two children in Beverly Farms, one of whom will be placed into the combined fourth and fifth grade class.
Kelsch explains that although learning disabled students are mainstreamed as much as possible they are counted separately. “They are counted in the Special Education staffing,” Kelsch said.
Therefore, even though students may spend their entire day in a mainstream classroom without being counted in the enrollment number for that class, they are counted.
This practice is far from universal. Recently, Fairfax County, Va. has begun counting Special Education students as full students in order to reflect more accurately the amount of time that those students spend in classes. Previously, Fairfax had counted each special education student as a half a student in the classroom.
In Montgomery County, students in “at-risk” schools are given more teachers due to sub-par performance. “Their scores are down,” Kelsch said. He noted that once the test scores at those schools hit the appropriate levels, their staffing levels are reduced to the standard guideline numbers. Beverly Farms is not an “at risk” school.
Sartucci is skeptical about that practice. “When you start making exceptions and one school gets hurt, you have to question how it’s being done,” she said.
The numbers for enrollment are still in flux, however. Nothing is final until the school year starts. For example, Kelsch notes that as a result of higher than expected Kindergarten enrollment, the school may get back its half teacher there.
“We’ve asked for a teacher to be added,” he said.