BB School Board votes yes, add a teacher

Sixth grade parents convince board to overturn earlier decision.With a 4-2 vote Monday evening, the Broken Bow School Board authorized the hiring of an additional 6th grade teacher. The ayes overturned a vote taken at a special board meeting in April. The question then, is the same question addressed this week ... How many students are too many for the most optimal learning environment? The upcoming sixth grade class of 48 is the last of the small classes, pointed out Elementary Principal Kim Jonas. The classes that follow are all larger. Last year there were three sections of fifth graders, and three sections of sixth graders. The class size of the upcoming fifth graders is 72, which meant dividing the students into three sections would have placed the class size at 24. With one of the sixth grade teachers leaving in order to accept a principal position in Gothenburg, School Board President Ken Myers suggested at the last meeting that instead of replacing that sixth grade teacher, the district could use that position to add another fifth grade teacher. This would have created four sections of fifth graders and two sections of sixth graders. The vote in April to not add an additional position was 3 to 3. Parents of the upcoming sixth grade students asked the board to reconsider. Tim Russell and Dr. Scott Reynolds addressed the board Monday as parent representatives. Their points centered around several areas, the reduction in school payroll due to the retirement of eight teachers in the upper pay grades being replaced by mainly new graduates who will be coming into the system at a lower pay grade; the higher percentage of students in the upcoming sixth grade class requiring assistance in the key areas of math and reading; and their test scores as fourth graders. “We do not feel that adding parents to the room will meet their needs,” said Russell, pointing out that the class qualified for more para-educators, but that “a para is not a teacher.” Reynolds and Russell asked the board to carefully consider the school’s motto when it came time to vote ... and to consider the uniqueness of the class. Board member John Evans was concerned with the significant increase in size. With two sections, the class size would increase from 16 to 24. “I don’t know if that is fair to anyone.” He asked if there was a way to even the classes out and Jonas responded, not really. He also asked if there was a way to hire a 1/2 time teacher. Jonas reponded and said yes, there was a way, but more than likely the teacher would work only with math and reading. Myers talked about the challenges facing the board fiscally. “As a board we have looked at this many ways. For the past two years we have backtracked a $1 million in our reserve.” For the future, the board is looking at setting a policy which puts a cap on how many students can be in one class. “We have to curb our spending, and 85 percent of our expenditure is personnel. Myers said he had spoken with the schools attorney, and that the only way the question could leagally have a revote, was for someone on the majority side, or the no vote from the April meeting to enter the motion. At that point David Glendy, who voted no in April, moved to add a teacher. Michelle Zlomke said that she appreciated Myers’ comments, but that they did not reflect everyone’s opinion. “We (members of the school board) are all concerned with cash reserves, but I don’t want to harm the kids,” she said. Matt Haumont said that this was the hardest decision any of the board members have had to make, and that it came down to the quality of teachers Broken Bow already had. Myers thanked everyone for being respectful. The vote when taken was 4-2 with David Glendy, John Evans, Michelle Zlomke and Tracey Popp voting to add another teacher, and Matt Haumont and Ken Myers voting no.