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School board adds 6th grade section

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After hearing comments from a number of area parents, the Morris Area School Board voted unanimously to hire a third 6th grade teacher for this year at their meeting on Monday, Aug. 22, after open enrollment increased the number of students in that grade.  

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The board also authorized Superintendent Scott Monson and Morris Elementary School Principal Bran Korn to remodel a current pod in the elementary school to accommodate a new classroom before the school year begins.

Board member James Solvie abstained from the vote.

Morris currently has 60 enrolled 6th grade students and two teachers, up from the 27 or 28 students per section the board originally estimated for the year. To solve the class size problem, Monson and Korn presented four possible options:

  • Take no action, leaving each 6th grade class at 30, with the potential for more if the district receives more open enrollment applications;
  • Hire paraprofessionals to assist the two current teachers;
  • Hire a part-time teacher to assist with reading and math instruction;
  • Hire a third teacher and create three sections of 6th grade.

About 10 parents attended the meeting, and all said they hoped the board would decide to hire a third teacher.

"It is our obligation to give [our students] every advantage that we can, whether it's more knowledge, more confidence in themselves, or the independence they're going to need in 7th grade," parent Laurie Wevley told the board.

"I just think these kids deserve more than just a para," Wevley continued. "If we don't invest now in these kids, it's a bad investment in itself."

Other parents argued that adding another teacher would ease the public perception that class sizes were too high and that even after just a year in crowded classes, some were seeing an impact on their children.

Monson told the board Morris has many more new students this year thanks to open enrollment -- about 25 more students total at the elementary school. Students are also enrolling late, meaning class sizes could still grow before school starts on September 6.

Hiring a new teacher comes with space concerns, as the elementary school currently has no available classrooms, and adding a new teacher would required remodeling room currently used by two special education teachers and an English Language Learners program.

"From a principle's standpoint, I love to see small class sizes," Korn told the board and assembled parents, "but if we continue to knock down walls ... it becomes a challenge to locate other services we have."

Monson was optimistic the remodeling could be done before school begins.  

"I think we're closer to being able to convert an area into a classroom faster than you think," Monson said. The floor, ceiling and other major repairs would likely be finished in time, but extra pieces like plumbing and cabinets would likely have to wait.

Monson estimated the total cost of the decision would be between $62,000 and $72,000, which breaks down to:

  • $42,000 for a starting teacher's salary and other benefits, which could be higher depending on experience;
  • $5,000 - $15,000 for curricular materials and support for a new section of 6th grade;
  • About $15,000 for the classroom remodeling.

However, bringing in five more students to the grade also brings more revenue to the school, about $35,000 said Monson.

Budget revisions for 2011 - 2012

The board also made a number of budget decisions for the next school year.

Sue Hauger, chair of the staff development committee, presented the 2010-2011 Staff Development Report. Last year the board allocated $40,000 for staff development activities, which were used, in part, for the collaborative in service with other area districts, support for learning communities that met during late start and early release days, and a competitive grant process.

Hauger pointed out two areas for improvement for next year: teacher induction and sustained programs for paraprofessionals. Hauger said in the past paraprofessionals had a learning community of their own, but it was dropped several years ago due to lack of funding.

"These are people who quite often work with some of our neediest kids, yet have the least amount of formal education, often, to be able to understand the disability they're working with," Hauger said.

"This is support they are obviously anxious to have," she continued.

Later in the meeting, the board unanimously approved $40,000 for staff development for 2011 - 2012, and approved pay and hours for paraprofessional staff to attend staff development events. Monson said this would cost about $15,000.

The board also voted to reinstate support for the boys' swimming and diving team -- a head coach and some transportation -- in an agreement similar to the one in place for the boys' hockey team. The decision was made because the swimming and diving program has doubled since the program was cut. Monson said this would amount to about $8,000.

Other business

  • The board approved a transportation agreement with the Cyrus School District, where Morris will provide transportation for Cyrus students, and a shuttle will bus students between the schools. The Morris Area School District will receive $20,000 for these services.
  • The board also approved a 2 percent wage increase for all food service staff and incentive-based pay options for all food service staff based on the number of students served meals and the results of state health inspector visits.

The board's next regularly-scheduled meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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