DOE proposal increases class sizes


POSTED: Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hawaii public school classes would get a bit more crowded under a Department of Education idea to cut expenses by hiring fewer teachers.






        The state Education Department is proposing increasing the state's average class size by one student to 27.15 children in grades 3 through 12 as a way to save money. Here is the plan, which would lead to 159 fewer teachers:



Now 113,2614,33126.15
Proposed Same4,17227.15
Difference Same-159+1

        Annual savings: $9.7 million


  Source: State Education Department


Education officials say they could save $9.7 million annually if the state's average class size increased by one student, to 27.15 children, in grades 3 through 12. The savings would come from 159 teachers that would no longer be needed, according to a plan presented yesterday to a Board of Education budget committee.

No teachers would be fired. The state, which usually needs about 1,200 new teachers each year, would basically hire fewer applicants, officials said.

But Hawaii State Teachers Association President Roger Takabayashi said that in general, a classroom with 18 students is considered ideal because it gives teachers one-on-one time with children.

“;Children really need that individual time,”; Takabayashi said, criticizing the Education Department's plan. “;It goes really contrary to academic achievement.”;

The proposal comes as the school board has struggled to chop some $70 million from the $2.4 billion public education system to help the state balance its books during the economic downturn.

The school board has already slashed 15 percent of the Education Department's discretionary funds by pulling $46 million for 244 Education Department positions, science textbooks and other materials, custodians, charter school student services coordinators and programs such as literacy training for children with learning disabilities and teacher workshops.

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, which has informed state agencies to lower their budget requests by up to 20 percent, had asked the school board to trim an extra $23 million.

But Schools Chief Financial Officer James Brese said the state Budget and Finance Department has accepted most of the reductions approved by the school board and told the Education Department last week to wait for additional instructions as the administration gets closer to finalizing its budget package to the Legislature.

“;At this point they have not asked for anything else,”; he said.

The proposal to raise the teacher-student ratio could become an option if the Education Department is eventually told to slice $23 million more, Brese said.

School board Chairwoman Donna Ikeda said she worried about cramming more children in a class, noting some schools exceed 30 students per teacher.

“;That has to have a negative impact on learning,”; she said.

Last month, Superintendent Pat Hamamoto suggested several possible ways to reduce expenses, including shutting down all Education Department operations for up to six days, closing campuses during four planning days when students are off, and requiring some 22,000 employees to work for free for four days. Annual savings for the plans range from $15.2 million to $27.6 million.

However, several school board members warned yesterday that it would take time to pursue any of the strategies because they would need to be negotiated with the 13,000-member teachers union, which has already raised concerns about the suggestions.