Teachers from Swansboro Elementary attended Monday's board meeting to voice their displeasure with the division's leveling process. (Photo by Mark Robinson)
After a long, winding, and, at times, emotional back-and-forth, the Richmond School Board voted Monday night to move teachers to address overcrowding at some city elementary schools.
RPS will reassign eight teachers from four schools – John B. Cary Elementary, Swansboro Elementary, Southampton Elementary and Overby-Shepard Elementary – to twelve schools where K-3 classes are too crowded. Additionally, the division may hire as many as 11 more teachers to level class sizes to a ratio of 19 students to one teacher. The decision may net the division as much as $4.5 million in state funds for complying with requirements set forth by the state's K-3 Primary Class Size Reduction program class-size requirements.
“I agree that this is the worst time,” says Supt. Dana Bedden. “That’s why we went after leveling in our secondary schools while we were doing scheduling … We’re still trying to address what happens at the elementary level.”
The school division must provide school-by-school enrollment data to the state by the end of September. Those enrollment figures are integral to the leveling process, Bedden says, but they aren't finalized until a month into the school year, after students have already settled into their classrooms and become comfortable with their teachers.
Last week, parents at Cary Elementary learned of the division’s plan to reassign four teachers from the school, where some classes had fewer than 19 students. RPS administrators held a Wednesday meeting at the school that was “wrenching,” says Adria Scharf, a parent of a 3rd grader at Cary. “Teachers were crying. Kids were upset,” she says.
Scharf and two-dozen others addressed the board during a lengthy public comment period that saw several RPS teachers from affected schools speak out against the leveling process.
As one of four new hires at Swansboro Elementary, Alex Newsom feared he would be reassigned during the leveling process. Newsom, a first-year teacher, told the board he had already settled into his new school and found a support system in his colleagues.
“In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve found a group of caring educators who genuinely come together and benefit their students,” he says.
After more than an hour and a half of deliberation, the board voted 8-1 to reduce the number of teachers moved from Cary from four to two. The compromise was meant to account for 2013 rezoning that increased the percentage of students attending the school who live in poverty.
The lone holdout was Mamie Taylor, the 5th district board representative. Before the final vote, Taylor motioned unsuccessfully to bring the leveling process to a halt until next year. “Our children don’t need to have teachers snatched away from them when they’re already struggling,” she says.
Had the school board voted to stop leveling, it could have cost the school division more than $2 million to hire enough teachers to reduce overcrowding, Bedden warned.
In addition to eight elementary school teachers, 15 special education teachers will be reassigned across the district to bring RPS into compliance with state and federal law.