The number of crowded high school classes in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district – those with 30 or more students – has more than tripled.
In Wednesday’s last meeting before this Saturday’s school board election, trustees heard there were 16 such crowded classrooms in 2013-2014, and this year there are 53.
Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra said teachers are always concerned with high class sizes.
“We can say all the cliches we want about how great we’re doing, but at the end of the day, if class sizes are that large, teachers can not meet the needs of every student.”
Garibaldi secondary had the most classes over 30 students with 16, while Pitt Meadows secondary had 14, Samuel Robertson Technical, nine, Maple Ridge secondary, eight, Westview, four, and Thomas Haney, two.
Serra said the dual track system at Pitt Meadows can create timetable issues, with some classes small and others too large.
“This district loves to laud how many innovative choice programs they have for kids, and that’s wonderful, but the more chowice you give kids, the more kids will spread themselves out, meaning you’re not always able to maximize 27-28 kids per class,” said Serra.
“Choice is wonderful if you have the money to run choice programs.”
Class size averages are also up across the district, due to budget cuts that have eliminated teaching positions. Average class sizes in Kindergarten went from 19.3 to 20.1 students; Grades, 1-3 from 21.5 to 22; Grades 4-7, from 26 to 26.5; and Grades 8-12, from 22.1 to 22.3.
Teachers are compensated for each additional student in their class over 30.
There is a formula based on last year’s average teacher salary and other variables.
Last year it worked out to $33.23 per student over 30 per month.
School board chair Mike Murray said people should not be fooled by an artificially low number at the Grade 8-12 level, because it includes special needs classes that can be as low as 12 students, and teacher prep time is included in the calculations – which is one block in eight.
Considering prep time, and removing these smaller classes from the average, the average class size is actually about 27 students, he said.
“What would it [class size average] have been, but for teachers achieving what they achieved in negotiations,” remarked Murray. “What we’re seeing is movement in the wrong direction.”
Acting superintendent Laurie Meston offered three reasons for the increase in crowded classrooms: the challenge of timetabling students during job action; staffing classes at secondary schools by full-time equivalents rather than by headcount; and the addition of staffing after the timetables were already implemented.
Serra said the situation underlines the need for hard class size caps guaranteed in contract language – as there is at the elementary level.
“Elementary numbers have always been maintained because there are hard limits they have to follow. So they know they can’t go over,” he said. “Without hard limits, what choice do they [school administrators] have? They have no choice but to increase the size – that’s why we have to get our class-size language back. That’s the only guarantee.”