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Augusta Chronicle: Panel approves BELL's plans to serve 500 scholars in 17 Augusta schools

Panel seeks OK to boost class sizes
By Preston Sparks | Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Richmond County school board committee agreed Tuesday night to seek a state waiver on the maximum class size for elementary grades and for those taking English as a second language.

The move, which must be approved by the full board, would raise the maximum by two more pupils, but officials were quick to note that most classes aren't pushing the current limit. The waiver request is meant to address a few classes that have recently exceeded approved numbers by one student.

Missoura Ashe, the executive director for Richmond County elementary schools, said the waiver provides "a safety net" across the board should it be needed and would prevent the system from having to hire extra teachers for the two kindergarten and one English Language Learners classes that have slightly exceeded their limit. Without the waiver, those classes would have to be split.

School board President Marion Barnes said the system is financially strained, "so we don't have any choice" but to ask for the waiver.

Without a waiver or split classes, officials said, the school system's state funding could be diminished for violating maximum class sizes. The waiver request would ask that the allowed maximum sizes be increased from 20 to 22 pupils for kindergarten, 21 to 23 for first through third grades, and 28 to 30 for fourth and fifth grades. As for English Language Learners classes, two more pupils would be allowed beyond the current approved levels for classes with no paraprofessional: 11 for kindergarten through third grade, 14 for grades four through eight and 18 for ninth through 12th. For those with a paraprofessional, the current maximum is 13 for kindergarten through third, 15 for fourth through eighth and 20 for ninth through 12th.

In other action at Tuesday night's meeting, committees:

  • Agreed to start an after-school program next month through the group Building Educated Leaders for Life, or BELL. The $770,000 program would include 17 schools and serve more than 500 students three days a week for 2 1/2 hours a day. BELL has agreed to fund $225,000 of the cost, and the 17 schools participating are contributing remaining funds through Title 1 and school-improvement money.
  • Agreed to reduce the mileage reimbursement school system employees receive from 55.5 cents per mile to 50 cents.
  • Approved a three-year, $1.8 million contract with the company Global Scholar to implement a new information system that would start next school year and consolidate several programs that track student databases. One function of the program allows it to send a text message to parents notifying them whether their child made it to class.

The full board is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.