Officials reject request to retain positions, citing fewer young students and record enrollments in middle and high school
Citing high enrollment in upper grades, the Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board on June 8 denied a request to replace two elementary school teaching positions.
With Paula Risseeuw retiring from her 4-year-old kindergarten teaching position and Mary Claerbaut shifting from first grade to reading specialist, Elementary School Principal Jeff Kondraciewicz asked to replace both, but only requested a half-time 4-K teacher with the option to go full time if enrollment increased over summer.
Risseeuw urged the board to replace her position during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I’m going to put in a plug for low student-teacher ratio. Four-year-olds are needy,” she said.
“Other programs in the state look at what Nan (Hokanson) and I do. Low student-teacher ratio has been a reason for our success.”
But board president Chad Hoopman said he can’t justify filling the positions given shrinking enrollment.
As of June 8, fourth grade has a projected 85 students for next year, while first and third have 68, second has 65 and both 4-K and kindergarten have 54 each.
Kondraciewicz said enrollments could climb over summer and emphasized the importance of the early grades.
“We are the foundation for what happens (later in school),” he said.
The board debated how many sections to run in each class. Three sections in 4-K make for 18 students per class and four would have 13.5. Three sections in kindergarten would have 20 students per class and four would have 13.3.
Three sections in grades one through three would make for 21 to 23 students per class, and four would have 16 to 17.
“The fact is we can meet with how we’ve been teaching with three sections,” Hoopman said.
Kondraciewicz presented class sizes from 14 area school districts. From 4-K through first grade, class sizes ranged from 10.5 to 23 and averaged 16.8 to 18.7.
Aileen Dahlke said she wants to see small class sizes in 4-K through first grade.
“I think those need to stay as small as possible,” she said. “If you’re not doing a good job in 4-K, they’re not going to get to the high school.”
But Hoopman said the board is not dictating how many sections to run per grade, deferring that decision to administrators. He said he wants to let staffing decrease through attrition and let administrators shift staff as they see fit.
Hoopman cited the bigger picture, saying this year’s high school graduating class of 77 is the smallest in the next five or six years. The middle and high school are seeing record enrollments, while elementary school enrollment has experienced a “sustained reduction for the last five years.”
“It’s our job to look at 4-K through 12,” he said. “The board knows it will be sitting here next year looking at how to pay for high school teachers for electives.”
With the district receiving $10,000 per student, it will receive nearly $200,000 less in grades one through three than in grade four due to student count, he said.
“We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do with the cost to offset that,” Hoopman said. “It’s about actively managing it.”
He said most school boards maintain the status quo and then need a referendum, and “taxpayers just accept it.
“We could ignore it and rehire and then go to referendum because Chad (Lukens, building and grounds director) can’t finish the roof at the high school,” Hoopman said.
Kurt Kraus agreed.
“It’s a tough decision, but I can’t justify hiring teachers with the numbers where they’re at,” he said.
Dan Bruhn said the school could still hold four sections of 4-K and first grade by shifting staff.
“But (4-K) is a different license,” Dahlke said.
Supt. Jeanne Courneene said emergency permits may be granted.
“That’s not uncommon,” she said.
Board member Laura Schieffer, director of special education and pupil services for Hartford Jt. 1 School District, said projected class sizes with three sections “are more than reasonable.”
A motion to hire 1.5 teachers did not receive a second and died on the table.
A motion to hire up to two teachers — to replace what the district is losing — failed 5-1. Dahlke voted yes and Nancy Niebauer was absent.
Courneene said she will direct Kondraciewicz to post internal vacancies as he sees fit. If nobody fills them, teachers could be moved involuntarily, she said.
The board unanimously approved replacing a part-time elementary school aide since one left for full-time work in another district.