Cloquet School Board votes to add new first-grade sectionThe third time was the charm for proponents of an additional first-grade section in the Cloquet elementary schools.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
The third time was the charm for proponents of an additional first-grade section in the Cloquet elementary schools.
After two previous votes to add another first-grade section had failed, the Cloquet School Board voted 4-1 to add just such a section at a special meeting Monday night.
Board members Jim and Sandy Crowley, Dan Danielson and Duane Buytaert voted in favor, with Dave Battaglia in opposition and board chair Gary Huard absent.
The measure, championed by Sandy Crowley, had failed by previous votes of 4-2 and 5-1 but Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said Monday’s vote reflected the board members’ passion for education.
“The board wants to do as well as they can for students for as long as they can,” Scarbrough said.
“We had to keep going after it and going after it and going after it until it [the measure] passed,” said Sandy Crowley, who sponsored the measure. “I think board members supported the idea generally but were looking for the best way to do it.”
But with a projected operating deficit of close to $900,000 for 2012-13 – and with the board walking back approximately 40 percent of the cuts it made earlier in the year through new spending – it’s an open question as to how long the new spending will hold up.
“If the state doesn’t adequately fund education over the next several years, we will reach the point where we’ll have to cut back,” Scarbrough said.
“I feel that it worked out for the best,” Sandy Crowley said. “The part that isn’t going to be good is that there will be a transfer of children. We will have to decide whether a third- or first-grade group will move from Churchill to Washington or vice versa. We are going to have problems for the next few years with the same issue [class sizes].”
Previous estimates as to cost for adding another section ran to approximately $55,000 for salary and benefits for a teacher, but Scarbrough also said costs of equipping a classroom might add more to the total.
The decision will also mean that the Kids’ Corner program will definitely have to find a new home. A previous board decision to add a third-grade section means that Washington and Churchill schools will be completely full for the fall term.
“There’s no place to put them,” Scarbrough said.
The issue of first-grade class size has been a hot button in recent meetings. The state of Minnesota has mandated new minimum reading standards for third graders in the future, and education experts are in general agreement that first grade is especially critical for the development of young students.
“All things being equal, there is a correlation between class size and student performance,” Scarbrough said. “There are other variables to take into consideration, of course, but generally this is the case.”
Without a new section, first-grade class sizes would be about 24 students apiece this fall. With the new section, the number is expected to drop to between 20 and 21, a number generally regarded as better for that age group.
“Every other district we talked to was at 20 or 21 students and we were looking at 24,” Crowley said. “With the state’s new reading standards for third graders, we had to do this.”
However, Monday’s decision places even more upward pressure on the district’s budget, which will make more demands on the general fund if mitigating factors aren’t found.
“The only place to take it [the new expenditure] is from the general fund,” Scarbrough said. “We can sustain that for this year and probably for next year too but after that we will need to make hard decisions if the state doesn’t fund us more adequately.”