Prince George's County teachers are urging the county to implement a controversial new program that would increase the number of teachers in proportion to the number of gifted or problem students in a class.
The proposals, currently used in only one other major school system in the country, is part of the teachers' bargaining package in their current negotiations for a new contract with the school board.
Under the program, teachers would weight the 139,000 county students according to ability. For instance, a normal student would be counted as one student, while a gifted or bilingual student would be rated as 1 1/2 students. A hyperactive or emotionally disturbed student could receive the maximum rating of 2 1/2 students.
As a result, a high school class of 25 students - the average size in Prince George's County high Schools - could end up being rated as "having" 35 or 40 students, depending on the number of bright and handicapped pupils in the class.
Additional teachers could be allotted to handle some subjects in the class or the actual class size could be reduced to compensate for its higher rated size, according to the program's backers.
While the new plan has been touted by many of the 8,000 county teachers as a major step in resolving class size problems, at least one Prince George's County school board member said the concept could cause "an administrative headache."
School board member A. James Golato of district 5 said the new proposal would cause the school system problems because it would force teachers to rate students. He also said shifting students around also would cause problems.
According to Prince George's County Educators Association spokesman Steve Bittner the concept has resolved class size problems in Denver, where it is currently being used, for only a fraction of the cost usually associated with their resolution.
Redefining class size in the year since the program has been implemented has enabled the Denver public school system of 69,750 students to solve more than 90 per cent of its class size-related problems according to Robert Gould, chairman of the class size committee for the Denver system.
Gould said it would have cost the school system more than $1 million just to lower the overall student teacher ratio by one student. However, Gould said his school system - which incidentally had approlimately the same student teacher ratio as Prince George's County prior to implementation of the program - only had to hire 35 teachers, some of them part time, to resolve class load problems throughout the entire school system.
He said a committee of teachers and administrators was set up to evaluate each request by teachers for help in resolving class load problems.
Gould said the program was adopted by the Denver school system through collective bargaining after the teachers in that school system negotiated a three-year contract with a 5 per cent cost-of-living increase.
After settling on the increase with the school system, he said the teachers offered to give up 1 per cent of their 5 per cent raise in order to help finance the new concept.
The Denver teachers with $740,000 freed as result of their offer and a promise from the school system that the program would be funded the following year through the school system budget got the program under way.
Prince George's County teachers have not offered to accept a lower pay increase in return for implementation of the program, and school administrators are reluctant to comment because the negotiations for a new contract have not yet begun.
"The goals of the weighted student program are desirable," said Doris Eugene, president of the county's PTA. "But the program may carry an impractical price tag."