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Duluth school district to add teachers with unexpected money

Unexpected enrollment money is allowing the Duluth school district to lower class sizes. The Duluth School Board voted to approve the use of about $1 million to do that during a special meeting Tuesday. But school administrators say they'll only ...

Unexpected enrollment money is allowing the Duluth school district to lower class sizes.

The Duluth School Board voted to approve the use of about $1 million to do that during a special meeting Tuesday. But school administrators say they'll only commit about $600,000 of it for now while they wait to see if actual enrollment meets projections.

The new money is coming from state aid: About half comes from larger- than-anticipated enrollment, and the rest from a state aid increase of $50 per pupil. The per-pupil amount wasn't decided by the time the district was required to pass its budget this summer.

Superintendent I.V. Foster said the district would spend $594,000 to add the equivalent of 6.6 full-time employees to classrooms across the district, mostly by increasing the hours of part-time teachers.

The district laid off or reduced the hours of almost 50 full- and part-time certified and non-certified teachers in May and June. Several have been called back because other teachers retired.

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If final enrollment is larger than expected, more money remains to further increase classroom staffing, said Bill Hanson, director of business services.

The board voted 5-0 on the measure, but members Tom Kasper and Gary Glass asked administration to use all of the money now instead of waiting until students are already in school.

"This is being too conservative," Kasper said. "We have an opportunity here to potentially do a little more."

Some parents may pull their students if class sizes are too big, he said, so adjustments should be made prior to school starting.

Tim Grover said adding more teacher hours than needed could result in layoffs or having to reduce hours later, as the district had to do mid-year last year.

"Prudence dictates we wait until we have the children in the building," he said.

The district is expecting about 100 more students than it budgeted for last year. The schools affected by the vote include Homecroft and Congdon Park elementaries, Woodland Middle School and East and Denfeld high schools.

Piedmont, Laura MacArthur, Lowell, Nettleton and Stowe elementaries, Morgan Park Middle School and Denfeld all used other funds to lower class sizes, mostly a mix of state money that goes to schools with high levels of low-income students.

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Members Ann Wasson and Art Johnston were absent from the meeting.

The $594,000 will be broken down as follows:

  • Homecroft gets $45,000 to lower kindergarten classes from 32 students to the lower 20s.
  • Congdon Park gets $90,000 to lower kindergarten classes from 33 students to lower 20s.
  • Woodland Middle School gets $252,000 to lower sixth-grade classes from 41 students to low 30s, and seventh-grade from 40 to mid-30s. Eighth-grade physical education and art classes will go from 44 students to lower 30s.
  • Denfeld will use $108,000 to add new sections of algebra II, biology, Earth and space science, American history and ninth-grade science and geometry, and to provide more support to at-risk students.
  • East will use $99,000 to provide more student support and add more sections of advanced placement U.S. history, algebra II, College in the Schools chemistry and ninth-grade Spanish, civics, science and intermediate algebra. Foster said the effort is meant to help close the achievement gap and improve graduation rates.

    "Since I arrived, I've been talking a lot about improving student performance. ... The most effective way to do that is an adequate student-to-teacher ratio," he said.

    As of last week, about 250 more students were enrolled in the district than projected. Actual enrollment will be more clear when school starts this week.

    Elementary level enrollment as of Aug. 30 was 3,956 students, an increase of 64 students from what was projected.

    Middle school enrollment was 1,711, three more than projected.

    High school enrollment was 3,018, a 189-student increase from what was projected.

    Because some registered students head to different schools or districts at the last minute, the district has planned for an increase of only about 100.

    "I am excited and encouraged by the numbers of students who appear to be coming back to our schools at this point," he said. "But we need to get into classes to see how many students are actually showing up."

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