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School board reviews class sizes

BEMIDJI – If area voters do not renew the Bemidji School District’s $501-per-pupil operating levy, class sizes would swell, according to Jim Hess, superintendent of the school district.

The levy brings in about $3.2 million annually, of which the largest share – $1.5 million – goes toward class size reductions.

The district has a policy in place that offers guidelines on class sizes. Generally, class sizes are kept smaller in the younger grades – up to 25 students per class through second grade – and larger in older grades.

The Bemidji school board in its regular meeting Monday evening reviewed the district’s annual report on classes that exceed the policy’s recommended guidelines.

According to the report, most classes in the district fall at or below recommendations.

Eighty of the district’s 98 elementary classrooms meet the recommendations, as do more than 150 of Bemidji High School’s 200-plus course offerings. At Bemidji Middle School, 90 percent of the classes meet the recommendations.

“Our class sizes are something we pay attention to,” Hess said, noting that the district wants its students to benefit from smaller class sizes.

Most of those classes that do not meet the recommendations are within just a few students.

At the elementary level, 18 classes exceed the recommendations: 12 by one student, three by two students, and three by three students.

Three fifth-grade classrooms at Lincoln Elementary were reported to be over the recommendations but have already been reduced due to addition of another fifth-grade section, Hess said. They now would meet the policy’s recommendations.

Also at Lincoln, three kindergarten classrooms also were over the recommendations, so additional paraprofessionals were brought in to bring their student-teacher ratios down.

“Lincoln has had kind of a population surge,” Hess said.

The Bemidji Middle School has 85 course offerings in addition to its nine pods. Six pods exceed guidelines – one by two students, one by three students and three by six students. Ninety perfect of elective classes are at or below guidelines.

“I think we’re doing a very good job of addressing our class size guidelines at Bemidji Middle School,” Hess said.

Bemidji High School offers more than 200 course offerings. More than 150 classes are at or below guidelines while 43 classes exceed guidelines by less than three students.

Some of the classes that are over the recommendations at the high school include courses that are only offered once a year, Hess said.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Hess said. “I think we’ve done a great job of balancing out the enrollments wherever we can.”

The availability of space in the school district will continue to be a concern as more students enter the district, Hess said.

It wasn’t that long ago that the district had only about 85-90 elementary classrooms, but it now sits at 98. Hess said he wouldn’t be surprised if the district breaks 100 next year.

“We are running out of space in elementary schools,” he said.

Voters in the Bemidji School District rejected a referendum question last year asking for $13 million to build a new elementary school.

That issue is not facing voters this fall, but the school district remains focused on examining the best use of its available space. One of the district’s goals for 2013 includes a review of the space currently used by the Early Childhood Special Education and Early Childhood Family Education programs, which are located in the Beltrami County Community Service Center and the school district’s Downtown Education Center.

Also, John Pugleasa, school board member, asked that the district also include a goal of examining the best use of its existing elementary classroom space.

“That’s something that needs to be at our forefront,” Pugleasa said.