Teachers, parents concerned about class sizes in South Kitsap

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PORT ORCHARD –Hundreds of South Kitsap teachers are concerned about large class sizes after the district cut 10 percent of the teaching force in May. On Wednesday,  teachers packed a public meeting hoping to convince the district to restore most of those jobs.

kitsapThis year, the average class size at South Kitsap High School is projected to be around 35. There are even four classes at this high school expected to have 40 or more students.
The teacher’s union says that’s unacceptable and if the district doesn’t restore the teaching positions soon there could be talks of a strike.

“Getting extra help after school, it was really hard getting that one-on-one time,” said South Kitsap High senior class president Noel Damian.

Many teachers and parents addressing the school board on Wednesday were frustrated over the same thing.

“Get your act together because I am getting ready to pull my kids out of here,” said one parent.

More than 300 people, mostly teachers, packed the school board meeting, demanding for most if not all of the 57 teaching jobs to be restored.

“How can we serve the children as a whole child with 57 fewer teachers?” South Kitsap Education Association spokeswoman Judy Arbogast asked.

Michelle Reid, the new superintendent, said that for years the district has been operating on the reserve budget, which is now dangerously low.

“This is why we are being so conservative with our staffing,” said Reid.

The state recently doled out more than $4 million in extra funding to the district, but the superintendent said that money had strings attached with specific instructions.

“State money went to special education, transportation, lab funding,” said Reid.

According to Reid, it leaves very little for discretionary funds

“Your budget is based on a projection and is a guess at best,” said one teacher.

SKEA says they’ve been crunching the numbers as well and it believes the current budget can buy more teachers.

The union is in the midst of contract talks they say they have never considered a strike before but if class sizes don’t get smaller a strike could happen.

“We are frustrated because we don’t see any progress,” said Arbogast.

In all, seven classes in the district could start this year with 40 or more students.

Damian says he is used to bumping elbows and shoulders with his classmates. Something parents are furious about.

“Cutting isn’t going to save you guys, you guys are at a death’s spiral and if you can make it to 2014 you will be lucky,” said one parent.

The superintendent says there is about $1 million in discretionary funds that could be used to restore up to 15 teaching jobs.

She is not committing to any decision yet. Reid will wait until Sept. 4, the first day of school, for the final enrollment numbers. If there are classes with 40 or more students, she promised to restore jobs. However, it is unclear exactly how many students will be in classes right now.

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