The Central Community School System has been experiencing growing pains — enough to prompt Superintendent Michael Faulk on Monday to propose raising class sizes in elementary grades and spending an estimated $2.8 million to help maintain the system’s older schools.
The Central School Board plans to take these items up again at future meetings.
As of Feb. 1, Central’s five schools had nearly 4,700 students, including 130 in prekindergarten. That’s 126 more students than the year before. That’s also about 1,400 students more than when Central broke away in 2007 from East Baton Rouge Parish to form its own school district.
On average, Central has added almost 200 students a year since it began.
At the outset, Central pledged to limit elementary grades to 20 students to a teacher and middle school grades to 26 to 1. Those targets have been hard to stick with as enrollment has ballooned, especially in the early grades.
Faulk presented the School Board with actual class sizes as of March 31. They ranged from as low as 21.6 students per teacher in kindergarten to 29.9-to-1 in sixth grade.
Faulk suggested raising target class sizes by four students to 24-to-1 in first through fifth grades. Kindergarten would increase two students to 22-to-1. Middle school ratios would remain at 26-to-1.
Faulk said he hesitates to increase middle school ratios.
“Surrounding systems, they are going to 28 to 30 (students per teacher), and it’s caused a lot of problems,” he said.
Keeping middle school ratios as is, however, will mean hiring more teachers in those grades. Faulk said he’s expecting to hire four more seventh-grade teachers and perhaps as many for sixth grade to meet demand without increasing class sizes.
School Board member Willard Easley said other local school districts with growing enrollment are facing the same problems.
“Where people are flowing to, everyone has had to raise their ratio up,” he said.
Central Intermediate Principal Rhonda Taylor urged the board to consider raising teacher salaries, which have been flat for years, if it is going to increase class sizes.
“It’s more paperwork for the same amount of money they’ve had for the last eight years,” she said.
The $2.8 million in school maintenance projects Faulk is recommending range from resurfacing the Central High gym floor to replacing carpet with tile at Tanglewood Elementary. An outside assessment of school facilities completed in January found about $10 million worth of maintenance the school system should consider doing, most of it at Central High.
Faulk said he chose projects that can’t wait and he suggests doing them over the next two years. He said the projects will have to be paid for out of a nearly $13 million surplus in the system’s general operating fund.
“We either increase (the budget) or we wait until it hits us between the eyes,” Faulk said. “That’s why I tried to come up with a plan.”
“Pay me now or pay me four times more later,” board member Jim Lloyd agreed.
Several board members suggested the system needs to budget a set amount each year for maintenance.
Faulk said he will post on the school system’s website the list of proposed maintenance projects as well as other issues discussed Monday.
After the meeting, Faulk said that in the next year, Central will have to consider whether to build another elementary school or find an alternative to meet growing demand in those grades.
Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.