Bibb schools vote to hire teachers, keep class sizes the same

The Bibb County school board Thursday unanimously agreed to increase the number of teachers in the school system while keeping class sizes at state levels.

With parents concerned that the system might seek a state waiver to increase class sizes, Superintendent Sharon Patterson presented the board with a plan to hire additional teachers and paraprofessionals at an estimated $2.85 million cost.

In an 8-0 vote, the board approved hiring 28 additional elementary school teachers, eight kindergarten paraprofessionals and about 12 high school teachers. The plans also would move two teachers from middle schools to the elementary or high school level.

“The classes will stay at the state-required level,” Patterson said.

The moves became necessary because students are still in the process of transferring among schools in the system, putting some schools at risk of exceeding state-mandated class sizes.

Patterson said the money for the new teachers will come from the system’s general fund.

Rumors have swirled the past few weeks at Springdale Elementary off Northside Drive, and some parents — many who packed Thursday’s meeting — were fearful that some teachers might be cut or transferred out of the school.

The school system did consider asking the state for waivers to increase class sizes, but the state has yet to render decisions on the 20 school systems that have asked for similar waivers, Patterson said.

The state’s deadline for a system to submit a waiver request is today, but Patterson told the board she didn’t want to wait for the state and then have to come up with a plan once the state decides.

Several parents told the board they opposed class sizes getting larger.

“I don’t care if it’s by three students or two or one, I don’t want (class sizes) to increase,” said Eima Sims, whose two children attend Springdale. “There’s only so much as parents we’re going to put up with.”

Jennifer Doolittle, whose four children attend three different Bibb County schools, said expanding class sizes would be in direct contrast to President Obama’s back-to-school speech Tuesday. The president encouraged students to set goals for themselves.

“The president tells them to work hard, and then they hear that they may lose teachers or make class sizes larger,” she told the board. “What message are we sending to our children?”

Some board members said the issue wouldn’t have been so contentious if the system had done a better job informing parents and board members about changes being considered.

Board members Gary Bechtel and Lynn Farmer criticized Patterson, saying they weren’t kept in the loop about Patterson’s plans, making it difficult for them to talk to concerned parents.

“I got about 150 e-mails and about as many phone calls (from parents),” Bechtel said during the meeting. “I felt like I was at a severe disadvantage as a board of education member, because I didn’t have the same information that was being distributed to parents and teachers.”

Farmer said she was in a similar situation.

“I found it very disturbing that I found all this out through parents,” she said. “I had no idea this was being discussed. ... From a communication standpoint, this was not well-handled. As a board member, it put me in an embarrassing position.”

Patterson said all of the changes the system is facing is because of factors outside of the system’s control, most notably, state budget cuts that have come as late as August. Combined with a late county tax digest, she said the system is facing “unprecedented times.”

“We’re unsure how to anticipate the future,” she said. “The landscape is changing daily. As a school system, we’re having to make changes literally on a daily basis.”

Some student enrollment numbers are still in flux, because students who are changing schools through House Bill 251 — which provides “that a public school student can attend any school in the local school system under certain conditions” — won’t be completed until today, Patterson said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.