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Class size scrutinized at Fitch High in Groton

By Deborah Straszheim

Publication: The Day

Published 02/27/2014 12:00 AM
Updated 02/27/2014 06:46 PM

Groton - Superintendent Michael Graner said he would review staffing levels across the district after a taxpayer group complained about underenrolled classes at Robert E. Fitch High School and the Board of Education asked him to look into it.

The superintendent said he found 90 such classes out of 543 offered at Fitch that had fewer than 15 students. Graner met with Principal Joseph Arcarese on Tuesday and said he has a follow-up appointment next week.

He said the classes fell into three categories: Basic level courses for students struggling with math and literacy; advanced classes for gifted and honors students; and classes where enrollment is limited by some other factor, such as the number of work stations.

He said there are anomalies he intends to correct.

"Sometimes you have 32, 33 kids sign up for a class and the computer will assign 23 (students) to one class and nine to another class, and it doesn't make (sense)," he said. "Because of the scheduling process, you end up with unbalanced classes."

Small classes cited by PAC

Last week, Rosanne Kotowski, co-founder of the political action committee Groton Advocates for Tax Efficiency, said during a public hearing that a master schedule from last year showed 193 classes with fewer than 10 students. She said the district could not afford Graner's proposed education budget for the coming fiscal year and should find efficiencies.

"We just can't go on like this," she said.

The school board voted 7-1 on Monday, with member Shelley Gardner opposed, to adopt the proposed budget. The $75.1 million spending plan is an increase of about $1.4 million over the current fiscal year and includes no layoffs, program cuts or changes to class size. It provides a small increase for building materials and supplies.

The proposed budget would also cover a $1.7 million shortfall in the health insurance fund, which had been supported by tapping a reserve in previous years. But that reserve is now gone. Graner said he was able to cover the $1.7 million shortfall and yet increase the budget by only $1.4 million because he found savings elsewhere.

Groton has 18 teachers retiring this year and will also cut costs through attrition, Graner said. In addition, the proposed budget cuts two administrative jobs in the central office and plans to move the staff to other administrative posts.

In approving the budget, Graner said the school board directed him to look at staffing.

The high school master course schedule as of Jan. 6 showed several instances where enrollments were extremely low relative to capacity. Two sections of AP chemistry showed enrollments of three students each, with capacity for 24 students each; three sections of French I enrolled eight, eight and 10 students each, with capacity for 25 students each. Editor's note:  Honors jewelry students are being taught in the same class and at the same time as non-honors jewelry students. The sections actually have at least 15 students, but honors students are listed as a separate group so their course reads as “honors” on their transcripts. This clarifies an earlier version of this paragraph.

Graner said he was aware of the master course schedule document and said, "I'm going to personally get involved in the scheduling process to make sure that the staffing plan at the high school is the best it can possibly be."

He said he wants to protect classes for students at the ends of the learning spectrum: both basic-level and advanced students. He said he'd like to promote high-level courses to boost enrollment there.

Graner said he also plans to meet with all school principals to look at staffing at the elementary and middle school levels. He said he would make changes if needed.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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