Lawrence school board wants to eliminate class-size goals, work on new plan to decrease overcrowding

photo by: Nick Krug

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

The Lawrence school board agreed Monday to review eliminating elementary class-size goals that are written into current board policy after two board members said the action would be a step toward decreasing overcrowded classrooms.

That decision to consider the revision to board class-size policy came after the board agreed to take the proposal off the board’s consent agenda of items thought to be routine enough to consider in one motion, without discussion. With that move, board members Kelly Jones and Shannon Kimball, who are on the board’s policy committee, explained that the motivation behind the recommendation was not to allow district elementary class sizes to grow but to attach to policy actionable steps to reduce class sizes through such things as transfer policy and school boundary adjustments.

Current policy states that kindergarten through third-grade class sizes should be from 13 to 17 students and fourth- and fifth-grade class sizes should be from 18 to 26 students.

Jones and Kimball said that goals had no place in policy, and that there were no other goals in the 1,000 pages of board policy or in the class-size policies of neighboring districts. 

Jones said the class-size goals were meaningless and have not been met since they were written into policy in 2010.

“Goals are only actionable if they have outcomes,” Jones said. “There are no outcomes or action steps associated with the goal of classroom sizes. In fact, the numbers that are associated with the goals within the policy are not supported with citation or explanation of why those hard numbers are there.”

The proper place for goals was the district’s strategic plan, Kimball and Jones said. They recommended the district have a comprehensive conversation about class sizes during the strategic planning process. That would include review of appropriate class sizes for not only elementary schools but all grade levels, which could be justified through current research, they said. With that, a new policy could be written that provided steps to take to reduce the size of overcrowded classrooms.

The current class-size policy states that there are factors that could prevent the district from realizing the goals, Jones said. Those factors include instructional needs, best practices, class enrollment, student demographics, teacher availability, budget and facility limitations. Some of those factors, like “best practices,” also needed to be better defined in the strategic planning process, Jones said.

Board President Jessica Beeson said the strategic planning process had a “soft start” with the six-stop listening tour that Superintendent Anthony Lewis and board members conducted this fall. It will resume in January, and the public will have the opportunity to participate in that process, she said.

The board will consider revising current class-size policy through the elimination of the current goals at its Dec. 10 meeting. Beeson said that would be a discussion item on the regular agenda. 

In other business, the board:

• Met in executive session about ongoing negotiations with the Lawrence Education Association on a 2018-2019 contract. No action was taken. District and teachers union negotiators will have a second meeting with a federal mediator in an attempt to negotiate a contract at 9 a.m. Monday, Nov. 19.

• Agreed after an hourlong executive session to overturn a decision of a student disciplinary hearing and allow a student to return to school Nov. 19. The board and district provided no additional information on the student or the incident.

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