Some Northfield schools expect to see the “largest population anyone can remember” in the 2018-19 school year — and while this may be a good thing, it comes with challenges.
At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Matt Hillmann expressed concern over growing class sizes in Northfield Schools and alerted the board that the district may need to expand its contingency fund to accommodate these increases.
The contingency fund is the district’s way of budgeting for these unanticipated changes in class sizes, allowing school administrators to request extra staff if the number of students requires it.
The board had already approved an expanded contingency fund, which would support the equivalent of six full-time employees for the 2018–19 school year, instead of the previous four. In an elementary school, where one teacher handles one classroom, this full-time equivalent (FTE) might be an additional single-room teacher. In schools like the high school or middle school, where teachers divide their day into periods, teachers might teach additional sections, thus increasing their compensation.
At the meeting, Hillmann noted large incoming class sizes that may require further expanding this contingency fund.
The incoming sixth-grade class at Northfield Middle School will have more than 340 students, meaning that core subject classes could be as large as 30–34 students. By late June, 106 kindergarten students were registered at Bridgewater Elementary, which has typically divided cohorts into four classes.
“Twenty-six kindergartners in one room is a challenge,” said Hillmann.
The high school also expects its largest student population in recent history, and the middle school reports a need for support in elective classes.
“Some of our class size issues are a result of the tremendous choice that our students have,” said Hillmann.
The district works to spend the contingency fund to strategically reduce class sizes. Transition years, such as kindergarten and fifth grade, often receive priority because these students tend to need the most support.
For 2018-19, the contingency fund has already allocated one FTE to Bridgewater, 3.5 to the high school and 0.4 to the middle school, which means that 4.9 of the available six FTE slots are accounted for. However, administrators expect that six still might not be enough with high student populations at the high school, middle and Bridgewater.
New students enter the district for a variety of reasons, which include switching from a local private school, as well as open enrollment policies that allow families from other districts to send students to Northfield schools under certain conditions.
Despite the challenges, Hillmann considered this a good problem to have.
“I’d much rather have that problem than trying to address declining enrollment,” he said. “We are always happy to see issues that are created by increasing enrollment because people want to be in Northfield schools.”
Members of the School Board appreciated the advance notice for the potential contingency fund increase, and supported the goal of reducing class sizes.
“Of course we don’t want our kindergarten classes that large,” said Ellen Iverson, vice chair of the board.
Board chair Julie Pritchard expressed support for the strategic placement of students within buildings and classrooms to accommodate growth.
“I just think this is such a really excellent strategy,” she said.
The district’s goal is to develop a long-term solution to these increases that maintains reasonable class sizes while still remaining affordable.