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Enrollment drop brings staff cuts

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

NEW MADRID - A continuing loss in enrollment has prompted a cut in 17 full-time positions in the New Madrid County R-1 School District for the coming school year.

Dr. Mike Barnes, superintendent, said during the school board's March meeting, the board cut the positions which include 12 certificated staff positions and five support positions. Seven of the 17 positions will be in the district's special education division.

Breaking down the reductions, officials said six teaching positions and two aide positions will be cut at the New Madrid County Central High School; two teaching positions at the Technical Skills Center, three teachers from the Middle School and three teachers and three aides at the elementary level.

However, the superintendent pointed out, not all the losses mean 17 people will be released from the district. Nine of the 17 are retirees and two of the 17 will fill vacant positions in the district, Barnes said. He added unless there is an unexpected vacancy for the 2004-05 school year four teachers and two aides will not be rehired. Currently the R-1 District has approximately 183 employees.

"This reduction in staff can be attributed, in one form or another, to the district's continuing loss of student enrollment," said Barnes. This year the district's enrollment of 1,730 is down by 75 students from the previous school year.

Despite the unprecedented number of non-returning staff, R-1 class sizes will remain well below what has become the norm in other districts, the superintendent insisted. "Our parents can be assured that even with these reductions, the district's average class size will still be less than what the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has determined to be a desirable number of students per classroom at the various grade levels," Barnes said.

He explained DESE has two standards regarding class size - one is the maximum number of students allowed per classroom and the other is a desirable number of students per classroom. The desirable size, as defined by DESE, for kindergarten through grade 2 is 20 students; for grades 3-4 it is 22; for grades 5-6 is 25; and for grades 7-12 the class size for core courses is 28.

"Our anticipated class size average next year is 18," said Barnes for the kindergarten through second grade. The anticipated average for the district in grades 3-4 will be 20, for grades 5-6, 23; and "our anticipated average for core courses in grades 7 to 12 is 23."

Barnes pointed out in the high school where one math, one social studies and one English position will be eliminated that those three areas currently have 21 sections (individual classes) "that have 15 students in them. Eight of those 21 sections have less than 10 students in them," he emphasized.

This year the average class size in math is 16 students while the average class size in social studies and English is 19. With the reduction in staff, officials anticipate the class size average will be 19 in math, 23 in social studies and 22 in English.

"Scheduling conflicts at the high school level sometimes create unbalanced class loads throughout a teacher's day," Barnes said. "But no section (individual class) will contain the maximum number of students allowed and very few, if any, will exceed even the recommended desirable number."

These are not the first cuts made by the district in recent years. Two years ago an assistant principal position was eliminated at the high school and for the 2003-04 school year a central office position was eliminated. A second office administrative position is expected to be eliminated in 2005.

While the cuts are not welcomed, Barnes called the school district better off than many in the state.

"The state's current financial crisis has caused some districts to have to jam large numbers of students into classrooms just to make ends meet. Fortunately, it hasn't come to that for us. As a result of sound financial management of the district's resources, we're in better shape than most to weather the current financial storm.

"That does not mean that R-1 won't someday find itself in the same position that its sister districts are in now.

Obviously, we have to paddle a little harder than we have in the past, but we're still able to keep our head above water."