Baltimore County parents and legislators will ask incoming schools Superintendent Dallas Dance to consider putting more teachers in high schools, where class sizes have swelled since positions were eliminated a year ago.
Maryland Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he wants Dance to examine restoring positions at high schools, where hundreds of classes have been dropped, soon after Dance takes over July 1. He said he warned county board members last fall that cuts made to the budget were having a more significant impact in the classroom than predicted.
"Now we have documented evidence of the impact," he said, which he believes could reverse 15 years of progress in the schools. He said there have to be "more intelligent cuts than these" that can be made in the school budget. The school system said last year that it would save $12 million by eliminating 196 teaching positions in the high schools.
"I think class size is one of several areas I will be looking at upon my transition," Dance said. "Where you decide to put your resources, that is where your beliefs and philosophy lie."
School board President Lawrence Schmidt said he will ask Dance to evaluate whether there are programs that can be consolidated to free up money to put more teachers in the classroom.
But, he said, he believes school leaders need to look at achievement at the high schools. "With lean times, what does it all mean performancewise?" said Schmidt.
An analysis of class size data by The Baltimore Sun shows county high schools have dropped about 700 of their 9,200 classes, including 19 Advanced Placement classes.
The analysis also showed that while nearly all of the 25 high schools lost teaching positions, officials protected the lowest-performing high schools, where smaller classes were deemed important for struggling students. But that meant the best and brightest students at some of the county's star high schools have the largest classes.
About one-third of all classes at Dulaney, Towson and Pikesville have 30 or more students — a level that is used as a cap in some states; at Hereford, more than a quarter of classes are that big. All four schools are high-performing.
"Class size matters. ... We told them early on, you take that many teachers, you are going to lose classes and raise class size," said Abby Beytin, the president of the teachers union. "It is devastating. Every time we cut schools, we affect students. We can't keep saying we believe in education and then not fund it."
Jean Suda, the parent of a Dulaney High School student, said she will attend school board meetings over the summer and ask for more teachers in the high schools.
Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said that fewer classes were offered this year because enrollment dropped in high schools and that some small classes, including AP, were offered online. The number of students dropped by about 500 to 30,664, according to school data.
A news release issued by the school system Monday called The Sun analysis "misleading" but not inaccurate. "We are saying it is dangerous to look at class size as the be-all and end-all," said Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the school system. He said there is no empirical evidence that class size is linked to student achievement.
The county school board budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 does not include any new teaching positions in the high schools, and school system officials said they will be reducing high school staff by about five total because of projected enrollment declines. Teachers are being hired for elementary schools, where enrollment is steadily increasing.
The cuts in teaching positions last year have been criticized because the school system did not look first at administrative positions. No teachers were laid off, and positions were reduced through attrition.
"This could have been less painful if they would have looked at administrative" jobs, Brochin said.
In the coming year, teachers will start using a more rigorous curriculum that puts greater emphasis on the sciences and writing. That focus is difficult with large class sizes, according to Julie Gillern, an English teacher at Western Technology High School.
The school system needs to examine "the outcomes of larger class sizes in a time when [President Barack] Obama and [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan are promoting strong and rigorous teaching strategies, ones that require space, time and resources," she said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun