By Sue Kiesewetter
LIBERTY TOWNSHIP - One of Ohio's top-rated school districts will have bigger classes this fall, because teacher jobs are being cut - even as enrollment continues to grow.
After voters rejected a property tax levy March 2, officials in Lakota Schools this week decided to cut as many as 29 of 787 teachers. Most of the reductions will come from retirements or resignations, but the district also might have to lay off two business teachers and one life skills/home economics teacher, administrators say. The goal is to save $1.5 million in teacher salaries.
The state's eighth-largest district expects to add another 375 students in the fall. Normally, the district would be hiring up to 20 new teachers to meet that kind of increase.
Lakota is the largest district in the state to achieve the ranking of excellent - the top of five rankings - on the Ohio Report Card. For the past four years, the district has worked to decrease class size so teachers could provide more individualized instruction.
"I think it's quite possible the class size will go up higher," Superintendent Kathleen Klink said. "It means less opportunity for individual attention to better meet the needs of our students. I dislike that."
Parent Jamie Green said she's not happy about class size increasing, either.
"That always puts pressure on teachers and it makes the job harder," Green said. "They're under enough pressure now with all the mandates."
Class size is projected to increase by one to three students, depending on the grade. Right now the district averages 22.8 students in kindergarten; 23.2 in grades 1-6; 23.6 in the middle schools and 27.1 in grades 9-12. Projections show class size will increase to 25 students in K-6; 27 in grades 7-8, and 28 in grades 9-12.
Already, 11 teachers have indicated they will retire, 11 have said they are resigning and one teacher died, Klink said.
The cuts come as district administrators wrestle with cutting more than $4 million after the March 2 defeat of a combination levy that would have provided $21 million annually for day-to-day operations and $84.9 million for construction and renovation. Before the levy's defeat, the district made $3 million in cuts for the upcoming school year.
Residents won't see another levy on the August ballot. Board members said that, before they put another issue on the ballot, they want to review results from a survey being planned. The $30,000-plus price tag to put an issue on the ballot also was a deterrent, they said.
"It's really important for me to get a handle on what (the community) is willing to support," said board member Sandy Wheatley. "Or, what this community is willing to live without."
Besides the reduction in teaching staff, Klink announced other changes that when added to the $3 million in permanent cuts, total just over $7.6 million. Elementary school fees will increase by $10 annually while fees at the junior schools are expected to increase an average of 10 percent, depending on courses students take.
Administrators also are preparing a higher fee schedule for renting school facilities when classes are not in session. A hiring and pay freeze have been imposed and building budgets are being reduced.
Among the other cuts or increases:
Raising preschool tuition by $100, to $1,200 annually.
Increasing athletic fees by $50 per sport.
Eliminating busing for grades 10-12 and busing no student in grades K-9 who lives within a half-mile of school. The busing changes will begin January 2005.
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