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Klein: Class sizes will rise next year, even with special funds

The city should be prepared to see the average class size continue to increase this fall, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein told members of the City Council today.

During a hearing this morning about the Department of Education’s proposed budget, finance committee chair David Weprin asked Klein what might happen to class sizes next year, when school budgets are cut by more than 5 percent, especially given that schools used $84 million to reduce class sizes this year yet the average class size went up for the first time in several years.

“I think they will increase, not dramatically,” Klein said, explaining that the expected decline in the size of the teaching force through attrition would likely cause class sizes to inch up.

Education committee chair Robert Jackson asked Klein how watchdogs can make sure that state class size reduction money is being spent on its intended purpose if class sizes continue to increase.

Klein said the department will monitor how principals use the special funds, which flow to the city through a state program called Contracts for Excellence, and people who ask principals for an accounting should be able to get an appropriate answer. But he reminded Weprin and Jackson that even if all of the money is used appropriately, that might not offset other funding cuts in a particular school.

A school might hire two new teachers with Contracts for Excellence money, which would reduce class size in some grades, Klein said by way of example. But at the same time, the school’s tax levy funding might drop by so much that the principal would have to eliminate three teaching positions. The school would have spent all of the mandated money on class size reduction, but the total teaching staff would still have decreased, Klein said. Still, he added, classes would be smaller than if the school hadn’t gotten the class size reduction funds in the first place and began the next school year with five fewer teachers instead of one.

Klein’s explanation of why it’s so difficult for schools to reduce their average class size resembled the one given to Elizabeth by a DOE employee earlier this month.

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