Centennial's Chief Financial Officer Chris Berdnik presented new budget projections to Finance Committee Monday night that showed the has been reduced from $4 million to $1.3 million.
Berdnik arrived at the calculation by adding in more revenue and reduced expense assumptions, including the sale of the Dot Henry Satellite School and Leary Elementary and the loss of 16.5 elementary staff positions. According to Berdnik, representatives from the Centennial Education Association has agreed to come back to the table and look for ways to reduce the need for .
The elementary staffing reduction had not been factored in previously because Berdnik had worked under the assumption that the school board would adopt a new elementary class size policy that results in a zero net gain/loss of teachers.
An had formed late last year that analyzed the current class size policy and looked for ways to make it more flexible and more in line with research that shows the positive effects of smaller classroom sizes.
Doctors Bart DeCorte and Kirsten Findell, Upper Southampton residents with a second grader in a classroom of 27 students at , presented evidence from several studies, including Tennessee's Project STAR, considered the largest and most reliable study on the effects of reduced class sizes.
Funded by the Tennessee General Assembly and conducted by the Tennessee State Department of Education, Project STAR's focus was the size of classrooms during kindergarten and the early elementary grades. In the course of the study, over 7,000 students in 79 schools were randomly assigned into one of three classroom situations: small class (13 to 17 students per teacher), regular class (22 to 25 students per teacher), or a regular class with a full time teacher’s aide. Students remained in their classroom type from kindergarten through third grade. The results showed across the board improvement in student achievement.
The current policy has a mandatory student threshold for each grade that, if crossed, requires the addition of a teacher or aide. The new policy lowers the threshold as such:
- Kindergarten-First Grade: 25 students to 23
- Second Grade: 27 students to 23
- Third Grade: 27 students to 25
- Fourth and Fifth Grades: 29 students to 28
However, crossing that threshold does not automatically trigger an additional teacher. Instead, school administrators would have the ability to analyze the individual classrooms and decide whether or not one or two more students would create an imbalance. The policy would also take into account whether a classroom is inclusive for students with special needs.
For example, a second grade inclusive classroom could have 20 students compared to another room with 24, making up for the additional time a teacher may need to tend to the students with special needs.
When presented with the proposed policy, members of the finance committee questioned the practicality of new class sizes that would not reduce the net total of elementary staff in the face of the current and projected budget deficits. It had been pointed out to Berdnik that the policy has not been approved and that the budget should reflect the current plan that would cut 16.5 positions when the school consolidation process is complete.
The new budget projections take into account the possible sale of , adding $850,000 to the capital projects fund. The board rejected a purchase proposal from the first round of bids, but Berdnik says that another offer has been made and is under review.
In fact, according to an estimated timeline presented Monday night, Berdnik expects the board to approve the sales of Leary, and Stackpole by April.
The closures of Longstreth and Stackpole took another step forward when public hearings for each building were held prior to the Finance Committee meeting. An opportunity was presented to residents in the Centennial School District to make any comments about the procedure. There were no takers from Longstreth, and only a handful of comments on the behalf of Stackpole. The school board now has 60 days to make its final decision on the school closings, expected to take place on June 26.