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Vote keeps class sizes below targets

Despite the recommendation to eliminate two teaching positions in kindergarten through fourth grade, the Red Wing School Board opted to keep both teaching positions for next year with a 6-1 vote, citing smaller class sizes and the available funds to pay for the positions as the driving factors.

The recommendation to reduce the teaching staff by two was based on projections of decreasing elementary enrollment while remaining within targeted class sizes.

Keeping both teaching positions will cost the district close to $160,000, said Finance Director Brad Johnson.

Neil Lahammer, third-grade teacher at Burnside Elementary, spoke to the board on behalf of Burnside teachers and as a parent.

“What really surprises me as a parent about this whole thing is that while cutting teachers and increasing class sizes, our district is running in the black and looking to add what is likely to be a six-figure principal on special assignment position and then have to hire another principal,” Lahammer said. “Now is not the time to increase class size.”

Board member Paul Kramp said he agrees with keeping class sizes smaller, but he wants to be cautious about how and where the district spends its money.

Without adding any additional costs, Kramp said, by the end of this referendum cycle the district’s fund balance will be in the negative.

“I want to make sure we have our resources properly allocated,” he added.

Vice Chair Janie Farrar agreed with Kramp, but ultimately said keeping class size down is an important part of a successful education plan.

“I want us to be financially stable, I want us to make good financial decisions,” Farrar said. “I really like the idea of having targets but possibly – when we can financially – be able to stay underneath those targets.”

Supt. Karsten Anderson said if the board did vote to reduce teaching positions, the district, compared to the numbers from the 2012 referendum, would still come in under the targeted class size.

The district's target class sizes for 2014-15 are 21 students for kindergarten, 22 for first grade, 23 for second grade, 24 for third grade and 25 in fourth grade.

Even with class sizes being close to the target numbers, board member Steve Anderson didn’t agree with decreasing the number of teachers.

“I can’t understand saying, yes, it’s a good investment to buy land we might need down the road and yet it’s not a good investment to invest in our kids right now,” he said.

Lahammer said the cost to keep more teachers on staff and keep class sizes down is worth the money.

“As a parent my child is worth that cost and our teachers and students are worth that cost,” he said.

Johnson said there are no issues with keeping the teachers on staff for the time being, but the district will need to keep a close eye on expenses in the future.

The district plans to pay for the two teaching positions from the general fund.

One full-time Title I teacher was added for next year and a social worker who splits time between Red Wing School District and Goodhue County Education District will be moved to full-time at RWPS. 

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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