MIDDLETOWN, NJ - Middletown parents, especially those of Lincroft Elementary School students, voiced their worries about a possible class size increase at the school during the Middletown Board of Ed’s June 26th meeting; which also featured a Board announcement about the local YMCA’s after-care program and a discussion on future staffing practices.
The meeting began with the Board announcing, to applause from the audience, that the YMCA would have its after-care contract extended for one year, during which the YMCA would make some upgrades to its facilities, as well as provide a monthly progress report on meeting certain benchmarks – such as increased staffing, obtaining additional licenses, and adding more spaces for children to use. Previously, the superintendent was planning a presentation from a for-profit Chicago based company called Right at School. The planned presentation and award of a contract to Right at School was tabled at a prior meeting. After further consideration, the contract was awarwded to the YMCA.
Afterward, as the Board was voting on the scheduled agenda items, Joan Minnues asked about how the planned changes in staffing practices would work in practice – as she wondered whether this was meant as a full-scale outsourcing of paraprofessional and other staff hiring to a third-party vendor, or just a way of supplementing a few hard-to-fill positions in certain areas through the vendor.
When Amy Gallagher, the Board’s Business Administrator, replied that all substitute, paraprofessional, secretarial, and other related positions would be filled through the vendor, Minnues expressed surprise, saying that she was under the impression that the third-party vendor was meant only as a supplemental hiring service for a few hard-to-fill positions.
“That was my understanding,” Minnues said. “I did support this service because I know that we do not have enough subs, but this is not how I was told this was supposed to work. I don’t think even the substitutes realize that they now have to go through this agency.”
William O’George, the District Superintendent, said his goal is to make sure that Middletown Public School’s current paraprofessional, substitute teaching, and other staff members can continue to work in the community with local students.
“I think that’s all of our intention to use our people from our own community for these positions,” O’George said. “The question is whether or not we will be able to we come up with a system that make sure that we utilize the people that are on our list (of staff) prior to going to the other people – and I think what we can do is sit down with ESS and we’ll be able to clarify that with the Board.”
ESS is the name of the third-party vendor the Board is currently considering using for some of the school district’s staffing services.
As explained in a prior TAPinto article from earlier this year, the Board said there have been several paraprofessional positions that were very hard-to-fill, making it increasingly difficult to tend to the needs of all the district’s special education students; and that as a result, a third-party vendor might be a viable solution of last-resort.
The Board ended up postponing a vote on implementing the proposed change in staffing practices, pending further discussion during a special executive session to be held after the meeting’s public portion.
Afterward, the Board said it would ready to hear from parents of Lincroft Elementary School students who were concerned about the fact that class sizes there may potentially increase to as much as 27 students per classroom, as soon as Assistant Superintendent for Student Activities and Services Mary Ellen Walker had a chance to explain how class size decisions work.
Walker said that the although class sizes at Lincroft Elementary School would potentially increase, the final class sizes are not normally officially determined until late July or early August at the earliest; since the process is constantly refined as data comes in throughout the summer on how many children move in and out of town, transfer between schools because of neighborhood changes and other reasons, register for the first time, and may qualify for either special-education or English-as-a-Second Language services.
“This really is a fluid process that we work on all summer long,” Walker said.
Board member Joan Minnues said parents should have the chance to know about large class sizes ahead of time without having to find out from other parents at the last minute.
“I would much rather say to these parents (ahead of time that) there is a good possibility that your child is going to be in a class of 27,” Minnues said.
Megan Rose, a parent of Middletown students, said that even though she is a public school teacher, she is now sympathetic to parents who want to move their children out of Middletown’s public schools out of concerns that larger class sizes there will reduce the schools’ educational quality.
“Anyone with an education background cannot tell me that 27 eight-year-olds are getting a quality education,” she said. “To ask teachers to deliver quality education to 27 eight-year-olds is asking way too much.”
Travis Johnson, a parent of Lincroft Elementary School students, said there was no way a class size of about 27 students could offer as much support and individualizes attention to students as a class size of 18-20 students.
“Let’s do a little math – if I cut a whole into more parts, what do I get, smaller parts,” he said. “At the end of the day, our children are getting less, that’s the reality of it.
Matt Poprik, another parent of Lincroft Elementary School students, said his son was worried about the effect larger class sizes would have on his experience of school.
“When we told him that his class size was going to increase, he said ‘daddy, mommy, there’s some days I barely get called on already’,” Poprik said.
Later, when asked, Poprik also said he was bothered about the fact that Lincroft will apparently have larger class sizes than other elementary schools.
“We want equality amongst the school district, and we certainly don’t want our kids to suffer from too large a class size,” Poprik said.