One of the state mandates that always gets local school boards talking is the state law that requires a classroom ratio of 22 students per one teacher in grades kindergarten through third yet allows school boards to give themselves an exemption from this rule with proper advertisement. It was no different Wednesday night with the Capital Board of Education.
The Capital School District Board of Education approved the always controversial class size waiver allowed by the state in a split, 3-2 vote at Wednesday night's meeting held in the Capital Administration Complex.
Delaware Code requires that school districts maintain certain student-to-teacher ratios within classrooms at the elementary and secondary levels. However, the school board was able to vote for a class size waiver allowed by the state because Capital advertised the need for the waiver in local newspapers and posted notices at the schools in question in advance of the board's November meeting, school district Human Resources Director Dave Vaughn said.
Among the different student age groups, the state provides the majority of funding for one teacher unit per 16.2 kindergarten students. And it requires kindergarten classroom sizes to not exceed a ratio of 22 students per teacher. However, East Dover, Fairview, Hartly, North Dover and Towne Point elementary schools combined had 17 kindergarten classes that exceeded 22 students as of the district's latest classroom analysis conducted Nov. 1, Vaughn said.
The number of classrooms, by school, was as follows:
East Dover 1Fairview 5Hartly 5North Dover 2Town Pointe 4Towne Point and Fairview received extra teachers aides, known as paraprofessionals in local school districts, in order to alleviate the classroom sizes, Vaughn said.
However, school board member Matt Lindell said that, with all due respect, paraprofessionals were not substitutes for qualified teachers. He lambasted the state's enrollment requirement as yet another unfunded mandate.
"They create a law that sounds good on paper and yet every year we have to apply for a waiver," said Lindell, a teacher at Cape Henlopen High. "It doesn't help kids at all. I will not support, with my vote, going along to get along."
He said the board could not continue "to take the path of least resistance" if it wanted to really exert pressure upon state legislatures for reform.
Board member Brian Lewis asked Vaughn if Capital had consulted the Delaware Department of Education on what the consequences would be for not enacting the waiver.
Vaughn said the school district had had discussions with DOE, but any changes to current law would be a legislative issue. He urged the board to take the waiver offered by the state annually.
"I'm not sure what the consequences are," Vaughn said.
Board President Kay Dietz-Sass agreed with Lindell in principle with regard to the state's classroom size law not having any teeth. But she took issue with Lindell's suggestion that Capital wait until December to consider the waiver. Namely, not voting for the waiver could theoretically jeopardize Capital's state funding, as calculated by the enrollment unit count.
However, similar to Lindell, Lewis wondered if Capital should call the state's bluff.
"How do we know we will lose funding?" Lewis said.
"How do we know we won't?" Dietz-Sass said.
In addition, Vaughn pointed out that the deadline for the state waiver was Dec. 15 and the board's Dec. 5 meeting would not give his office enough time to meet that deadline.
"My advice is, take the waiver," he said.
At that point in the meeting, board member Dr. Raymond Paylor called for a vote.
Dietz-Sass, Paylor and Vice President Phillip Martino voted for the class size waiver while Lindell and Lewis voted no.
In a related matter, the board also unanimously approved Vauhgn's recommendation for a waiver of the state's 98 percent rule that required schools to be staffed with at least 98 percent of the teaching units they earned. School district officials in Delaware colloquially have called the "98 percent" rule a shell game that allowed districts, in part, the flexibility to rob Peter to pay Paul when it came to staffing schools.