SVSU optimum class size policy back in committee

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BENNINGTON — After being rejected by two member boards of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, the policy on Optimum Class Size returned to the policy committee on Monday.

"This came back because we had a lot of strikeouts, all over it," said committee chairman Leon Johnson, "We got a comment from two of the districts that it was confusing... So what we did was clean it up so that it can be looked at without all the strikeouts."

"I think the confusion goes way beyond the strikeouts," said John Bullock, who represents North Bennington on the committee, "For example, and I've read this many times, it's not even clear what the objective of the policy is." Johnson said the purpose of the policy is to provide guidance to the superintendent, who works with building administrations to determine appropriate class sizes, by listing factors that should be considered. There are no minimum or maximum numbers listed in the policy, which is labelled #6400, and is available for viewing on the SVSU's website, along with the supervisory union's other policies.

Ed McTiernan of Shaftsbury agreed with Bullock. "It never really comes out and says, 'This is the policy.' You might as well not have anything in there if you don't have that."

Bruce Lee-Clark, who represents the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, said, "This is a legislative requirement that we have an optimum class size policy, and it says clearly, although you may not like the definition and think it's too broad, it's basically 'the obligation to provide all students a free and appropriate education in a safe environment conducive to learning.' That's what the optimum class size is. The optimum class size is the size in which students are safe and can learn the best they can."

Mount Anthony Union High School Dean of Students David Beriau adding language after the phrase Lee-Clark quoted, "To ensure effective learning, the optimum class size shall be determined by the superintendent or his/her designee."

Lee-Clark urged committee members to explain, when the policy comes before their individual boards for approval, to explain that this is a policy required by the legislature, with specific requirements.

Holly Bahan of Shaftsbury raised further issue with the policy, saying that it would not be effective unless specific ranges of numbers were given as recommendations for class sizes. Dick Frantz, of Woodford, said that they have been arguing about the policy since 2002, and the argument has shifted back and forth over the years as to whether having specific numbers is good or bad. He and Johnson agreed that getting all the districts to agree on a specific number or range of numbers is likely impossible. Lee-Clark pointed out that it is the superintendent, not the school board, that sets the optimum class size, according to statute.

"There's no direction here," he said, "except that it is really the superintendent's responsibility to work with school boards to determine what we mean by any of this, which is what makes it such a royal pain in the neck."

The policy will need to be warned and then adopted by all of the SU's seven boards in the coming months.

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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