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Parents weigh in on school district class size

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Education > Group calls itself ‘Save Our Schools Los Alamos’

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos Board of Education is not the only group concerned about the student-to-teacher ratio and other school-related issues; a group of parents have also been making its presence known too.

Calling themselves “Save Our Schools Los Alamos” (SOSLA), a representative of the group recently came to a recent school board meeting to talk about the ratio.
The issue became a hot topic this year when it was revealed by school officials earlier this year that the second grades in many of the area elementary schools were going to contain at least five extra students, putting the class average in the higher-than-normal 25 to 30 student range for each second grade teachers. Schools effected by the jump include Mountain Elementary School and Barranca Mesa.
According to school officials, part of the problem was they lost a larger than average number of teachers last year due to attrition and retirement.
While they could have hired more teachers this year, the board decided funding would be better spent paying for a Master’s Degree program for the teachers in an effort to eventually shore up the training and experience of the teachers in the system.
District officials said they lost the $800,000 through an NPED funding formula that “penalizes” districts that employ teachers who do not have advanced degrees and years of experience in their chosen education specialty. Nearly all of the teachers that retired or left for other reasons had a Master’s Degree.
At the meeting, SOSLA Representative Susan O’Leary read a statement that was a collaboration between four other parents in the organization..
“On behalf of of five families with children in second grade at Mountain Elementary, I’m here to let you know we are concerned about the number of students in our second grade classes,” O’Leary said. “Despite good teachers, our children are having a below-average second grade experience due to the number of children in them. We believe the class rooms are crowded and too small for the number of children. We are concerned about the time required for these large groups to transition between activities, resulting in less time being spent on academics.”
O’Leary went on to say the burden of organizing and teaching the kids is too much for the second grade teachers, and that the school system should put the money it receives from the U.S. Dept. of Energy as well as the New Mexico Public Education Department to better use in solving the problem. Every year, the USDOE gives the district $8 million as part of an academic partnership agreement.
“We know that Los Alamos has a rainy day fund of almost $8 million, and to us, it’s raining now,” O’Leary said to the board and administrators. “We don’t understand why you haven’t used those resources to hire another teacher. We know you’re concerned about the negative New Mexico state funding impact of hiring level one teachers but we need to balance those strategic concerns with an imperative to have reasonable class sizes.”
In response, Los Alamos School Board President Jim Hall thanked O’Leary for her comments, “I think we all welcome the public’s input and attention to the issues the school’s face, and I appreciate your effort to inform the public,” he said to O’Leary. He also added however since the issue was not on the agenda, they could not go into a full discussion.
After the meeting, O’Leary stated the group has a website further explaining their positions on a variety of school issues at soslosalamos.com. She also said she was glad her group made a statement at the meeting.
“I think they are happy to have a non-affiliated group come out and speak,” she said. “As a group of concerned citizens, we can discuss the issues broadly as well as pursue funding opportunities with other government agencies that may prove too complicated for the school district to pursue.”