The Washington Post

Prince William School Board seeks flexibility on class size mandates

The school board in Prince William County, where class sizes have reached state limits in many subjects and grades, is requesting more flexibility from the state to set its own class sizes.

The request was made through the board’s list of approved legislative priorities, presented Friday to the county’s delegation of state lawmakers in advance of the 2014 General Assembly session.

The list of priorities stated that the board would like “relief from some of the more burdensome mandates” imposed by the state, including requirements regarding faculty-to-student ratios.

Such flexibility would provide “school divisions with opportunities to save money in times of financial hardship,” the document says.

Keith Imon, associate superintendent for communications and technology, said that while the board would like more flexibility to make its own financial decisions, the intent is not to raise class sizes.

County supervisors and school board members convened earlier this fall to talk about how to begin lowering class sizes. That remains the “number one goal” of the school board and administration, Imon said.

Average class sizes have increased dramatically over the past decade in the state’s second- largest school district, as the district grappled with enrollment increases and declining revenues. County supervisors have been reluctant to raise taxes significantly, and each year school staffing was stretched a little further.

Many educators and parents consider smaller classes a key component of school quality. Research has shown positive academic outcomes for small classes, particularly in lower grades and for students who live in poverty. But reducing class size is an expensive endeavor, particularly in large school districts. School officials estimate it would cost $15 million to reduce class size by one student across the district.

Other legislative priorities outlined by the school board include securing more state funding to help the schools attract quality teachers in high-priced Northern Virginia and to meet higher quality standards in the classroom.

The school board also would like to see the legislature get rid of the A to F grading scale for schools that was approved last year.

“Using a single letter grade to rate a school is equivalent to assigning a single letter grade to a student for their entire year’s course work covering all content areas,” the document says.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.

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