In the past three years, the average class size at Rogers Heights Elementary School, a predominantly black, inside-the-beltway school, has climbed from 25 to 30.
Principal Charlotte Mason said that in a low-income area, where transiency is high and parental support sometimes low, class size makes a big difference.
In a large class, Mason said, "it's just very difficult to take a child off to the side and say, 'You really did a super job today.' I know it's been hard for the teachers here."
As the result of last year's TRIM-mandated budget cuts, Rogers Heights lost two of its 15 teachers. (After a large influx of transfers just before Christmas, when some classrooms bulged with 38 pupils, one of the teacher positions was restored.) The formerly full-time librarian came on alternate weeks, and would-be band members were told they would have to wait until fifth grade to take instrumental music, when their predecessors all started in the fourth.
Some Rogers Heights' pupils were caught in a double bind of federal and county budget cuts: While class sizes went up, a federally funded program to provide disadvantaged students with extra help in reading and math was pared down.
Field trips and visits to the nature center, formerly free, now cost each child $1.20 a trip. With more than half of her 480 students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches, Mason dislikes asking them to pay fees.
Her concerns were heightened last year when federal officials tightened eligibility rules for the lunch program and 10 to 15 percent of the school's recipients were either dropped or forced to pay more.
"When the youngsters aren't able to pay, we try to find the money elsewhere. Sometimes the teachers pay," she said. Last year, the PTA raised funds to sponsor a cultural arts program.