• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Class sizes still rising at Garner Elementary

ICCSD may allow families at crowded schools to transfer to schools with smaller class sizes

By Nora Heaton
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY – As K-3 enrollment continues to creep upward in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), the Board of Directors will consider options to keep class sizes down, such as allowing students to transfer to schools with small classes.
At the board’s Oct. 27 meeting, Chief Academic Officer Becky Furlong presented a preliminary report on class sizes for the beginning of the 2015-16 year. A complete report will be released in March. Furlong noted that since class size fluctuates day-to-day, the presentation should be considered more as a snapshot than a comprehensive report. Some students receiving special education instruction, for instance, only spend part of their day in a classroom
Garner Elementary in North Liberty is one of the most overcrowded schools in the district, using the ideal class size benchmarks the board adopted in 2013. Target class sizes are 16 to 24 for kindergarten through second grade, and 20 to 28 students in grades three though six.
Kindergarten class sizes fall comfortably within that range. In first through third grades, seven out of 11 classes at Garner are over the aspirational benchmark—although none are more than two students over that benchmark. ICCSC’s other two North Liberty elementary schools, Van Allen and Penn, are within the aspirational range at all grade levels.
“This is not sustainable with Garner going two, three, four years in the future,” said Board Vice President Brian Kirschling. “It’s very bottom-heavy in K-2. Next year’s kindergarten class isn’t going to be any smaller.”
Garner has the highest kindergarten enrollment in the district. Its largest enrollment is in kindergarten, at 116 students, more than double the number of enrolled sixth grade students. Since the school has six kindergarten sections, though, class sizes have not suffered.
Challenges in reducing class sizes include a lack of funding for more teachers, as well as limited building capacity, Furlong said. Although Garner is over the district’s preferred class size limit for third grade, for instance, the school lacks the classroom space to add another section. Remodeling at Penn and Van Allen Elementary Schools helped keep class sizes down in those buildings, she said.
Crowding at Garner should be alleviated when a North Liberty elementary school opens near North Liberty in 2019, but Board President Chris Lynch said the board should seek options to help students and staff in the meantime.
Superintendent Stephen Murley said when attendance zones are revised to include a new school, they normally take into account factors that could lead to overcrowding. After collecting the number of students in a school’s catchment area, the district also considers the number of available seats in each classroom.
One option in the interim might be to allow families in overcrowded schools to voluntarily transfer their children to schools with more space, Murley said. Garner families may choose to transfer to Van Allen, which recently received a 100-seat addition and is currently within the ideal range for class sizes at all grade levels.
This may be a good solution for families living between Garner and Van Allen, because some Garner students may be reassigned to Van Allen when boundary lines are redrawn for the new school. Parents with younger children who will be in elementary school in 2019 may prefer to transfer to Van Allen sooner, to allow for more continuity throughout the elementary years, Murley said.
The problem of too-high class sizes reaches to all corners of the state. Funding remains a barrier for Iowa schools after K-12 districts received a lower-than-expected 1.25 percent base budget increase over last year’s funding. Legislators drafted a compromise that would provide $55.7 in one-time additional state aid, but Iowa Governor Terry Branstad vetoed the measure just before the close of the legislative session.
The state’s class size reduction program goal is 17 students per teacher in all elementary grade levels, but no district close to Iowa City’s size has been able to meet this goal since the state initiative began in 1999. The only districts in Iowa able to meet the goal last year were those with enrollment of less than 300 students per grade level—roughly a quarter the size of the K-3 enrollment at the Iowa City Community School District, the fifth largest district in Iowa.
Garner’s average kindergarten class of 19.3 students is about the same as other Iowa districts with comparable student enrollment, according to a 2014-15 report by the Iowa Department of Education. Garner’s first through third grade classes, though, are larger: Garner averages 23.75 in first grade compared to 20.8 in other similar-sized districts in Iowa, 25.25 in second grade compared to 20.8 in other districts, and 29.3 in third grade compared to 21.4 in other districts.