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Bemidji area schools: District reports larger class sizes

Bemidji School District Superintendent Jim Hess predicted the district would likely see larger class sizes this year.

Last spring, budget constraints caused school district administrators to remove one classroom from Northern, Central and Horace May elementary schools.

At a school board meeting Monday night, Hess reported the number of classes which exceeded the district's class size goals.

The District sets the following class size goals: grades K-2, 25 students; grades 3-5, 30 students; grades 6-8, 120 students per pod (each pod has four regular teachers); and grades 9-12, 30 students.

Hess reported the following from the district's elementary schools:

- 24 of the 90 total classrooms have more students than the recommended goal.

- Seven of the 24 classes have three or more students in excess.

At the Bemidji Middle School:

- Two sixth-grade pods have between one and five students in excess of the goal.

- One sixth-grade pod has five students or more in excess.

- Two of the three eighth-grade pods (there are only two and a half pods), are in excess.

At Bemidji High School:

- 200 classes are offered.

- 44 classes have more students than the recommended goal.

- 39 of the 44 classes have between one and five students in excess.

- Six classrooms have five or more students in excess.

With more students in classrooms, teachers have more student papers to grade. More students have their hands up in class, and teachers often find it difficult to provide the same level of instruction, said Hess.

"It puts a greater tax on the teacher to get around and be everything they need to be to those students," he said.

The superintendent offered several reasons why schools are seeing more students in class.

More students with special needs are being mainstreamed into the classroom, said Hess.

"Sometimes those students have staff to assist in their needs, which adds to a classroom," he said.

With a dismal state budget forecasted, the district predicts class sizes will continue to exceed its goals again next year.

"We experienced a tremendous loss of revenue from the state," said Hess. "It is not likely we will receive state aid this year, and it is very likely we will be looking at reductions again next spring."

The superintendent added that districts are reimbursed from the state at a lesser rate for elementary children than for secondary students.

Last year, the district reported fewer classrooms in excess of district guidelines. However, there are three fewer classrooms this year, said Hess.

"The choice to remove a classroom from Northern, Central and Horace May was unpleasant," said Hess. "We had to make a choice between having larger classroom sizes or do without the allied arts program."

Options to reduce class sizes were discussed, such as hiring paraprofessionals, splitting the classes in half, hiring a teacher for individualized lessons of reading and math.

"Right now we have to maintain a balanced budget the best we can with the resources we have," said Hess.

Chris Leinen, director of business services, said district dollars are still being put towards the classroom.

"We put 70 percent of the budget into the classroom," said Leinen. "While we see class sizes creeping up, it is more of a function of inadequate funding than it is change in priorities on your part," he said to School Board members.

"We have some excellent teachers and I know we are going to do our best to compensate," said Hess.

"After a decade of cuts, and when you look at class sizes this large, you know we're at the bottom of the barrel," said School Board member Ann Long-Voelkner. "It does no service to our kids and to our future."


Schoolcraft Learning Community, a K-8 public charter school, reported class sizes of 17 or 18 students.

"Our board doesn't set any true class size guidelines," said director Scott Anderson.

Schoolcraft's school design and available space at its current location limit the number of kids per class, said Anderson. The school had closed its open enrollment this year with a waiting list.

"Right now we're at about 178 students, which is our limit," said Anderson. "Small class sizes are wonderful and it's appreciated by parents and teachers."


TrekNorth Junior and Senior High School, a public charter school, does not have established guidelines on the number of students per class.

"But we do plan to ensure that we maintain small class sizes, which is an expectation the board has for me," said director Dan McKeon.

McKeon reported the following enrollment information at the high school:

- 37 classes total.

- Average of 13 students per class.

At the junior high:

- 16 classes total.

- Average of 15 students per class.


Voyageurs Expeditionary High School, a 9-12 public charter school, reported class sizes of between 10 and 12 students. The school's open enrollment closed this year with no students on a waiting list. Director Julie-Johnson-Willborg was not available for comment.