Parent petition calls for Shelton schools to address class size spikes

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Exterior view of the Board of Education offices in Shelton, Conn. Nov. 5, 2020.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Concerns over burgeoning class sizes in some city elementary schools has some parents calling for action.

Melissa Hanas, a parent of a third grader at Booth Hill School, where she is also a PTO board member, created an online petition Wednesday, calling for parents to join her in demanding more funding to hire teachers to cut into some class sizes that stand at 28 or 29 students to one teacher.

“This is not what’s best for teachers or students,” said Hanas, whose daughter’s class has 24 students. “This is not good academically or for social emotional learning.”

Superintendent Ken Saranich, while acknowledging a high number of late registrations for the district, said it is still too early to know the impact on class sizes, as schools must wait until five days after school starts to unenroll students who are no longer in the district.

But Hanas said “parents were struggling with how to voice their concerns,” and added that at a meeting Wednesday a parent suggested an online petition for change as opposed to everyone writing letters.

The petition, which got 130 signatures in just a couple hours, states student teacher ratios in some classrooms are 28:1 or 29:1.

“Please let your voice be heard for education to be properly funded and adequately staffed. Our children and teachers deserve better,” the petition reads.

Saranich would not comment on exact enrollment numbers or specific class sizes Thursday, saying the district will have more final figures in the coming days.

“We are monitoring enrollment and class sizes,” Saranich said. “But the enrollment numbers are not solidified yet. We will know more next week.”

“Our protocol is to watch the numbers for the first five days of school where numbers may fluctuate ... some students may have moved or transferred out to another school or possibly be home schooled,” Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish said.

“Next week the superintendent, chief of staff, finance director and members of the board will have a more definitive idea of the exact numbers in each of the classrooms and discuss a way and means to remedy this,” Yolish added.

Saranich said he plans to present the enrollment numbers and proposals to alleviate any larger than expected class sizes, if necessary, to the Board of Education at its meeting later this month.

“The reality is we had an exorbitant number of registrations come in late in the summer,” Saranich said. “It is causing an enrollment spike we did not anticipate.”

Saranich said administrators are specifically monitoring class sizes at three elementary schools, none of which he would identify at this time. But Hanas said Booth Hill School must be one, with some first and fourth grade classes standing at 28 or 29 students per class.

Hanas, who reached out to Saranich and Yolish earlier this week on this issue, said student test scores in reading and math have suffered due to the pandemic, and the excessive class sizes will do nothing to alleviate the struggle.

The Board of Aldermen’s approved city budget allocated the schools just more than $75 million, a $1.5 million increase over its 2021-22 budget but less than the school board’s requested $76.8 million.

To maintain present staff and programs, school Finance Director Todd Heffelfinger had stated that the 2022-23 fiscal year budget would need to be $75.7 million, a $2.2 million increase from the present year and about $700,000 more than Mayor Mark Lauretti recommended.

Saranich had recommended hiring four teachers in the Board of Education budget. When the city approved its final numbers for the schools, Saranich said those proposed teacher hires were removed.

“When we formulated our 2022-2023 budget, four new teaching positions were included,” Yolish said. “We knew that there would be an influx of new students and it probably would be at the elementary level. When we received our budget, those positions were eliminated as were other items.”

“(Hiring those teachers) would have been a more proactive measure,” Saranich said. “Now we have to be reactive.”

Yolish said the school board and administration were grateful to receive the increase that they received and worked within those parameters as they are obligated to do.

Yolish said she is confident Saranich and Lauretti will meet soon to discuss the situation and potential remedies.

“With many new single and multi-family housing being built in our city it is most certain our schools will experience an increase in population as well, especially at the elementary level,” Yolish said. “I am hopeful and confident that together we will resolve the issue in the best way to benefit the students, staff and our educational system.”