Red Clay School District Bucks The Class Size Law

Filed in Delaware by on November 18, 2013

So this happened:

Parents and educators have fought for years to keep class sizes small.

But as school populations grow, those efforts run into physical and financial barriers. Sometimes schools run out of space and face difficult decisions.

In most cases, there are two solutions: Build more classroom space and hire more teachers (which usually means raising taxes or moving money from other priorities) or approve a waiver allowing more students in classes than the law says is ideal.

In the past few years, most Delaware districts have asked their school boards to approve waivers – and boards have always agreed.

That changed last week when the Red Clay School Board rejected its district’s request, deadlocking in a 3-3 vote.

Many parents and teachers are cheering the decision, saying they’re tired of watching boards vote to allow bigger class sizes.

Color me surprised.  And while I completely understand the difficulties districts face following this law, it is a law.  An unfunded, feel good law, but a law nonetheless.

Red Clay’s Board is split:

“Let’s not keep doing this over and over again and giving ourselves a free pass,” said Adriana Bohm, a board member who voted against the waivers. “We need to prioritize this, because we know how important this is for our children”


“All of the board members and everybody in the administration agrees that small class sizes are important,” said board president Faith Newton, who voted to accept the waiver. “But the question is how we get there. How do we come up with the resources, and how do we strike a good balance with our other needs?”

I find myself agreeing with both statements.  The law mandating class size is unfunded, basically telling districts they mustn’t exceed 22 students per class (K-3), but not offering funds to make this a reality.  This law places districts in a difficult position.  For while I believe they’d love to follow this law, there simply isn’t the money to make this a reality.

That said… I like what the RCCD board did.  Kick that ball back to the legislature – most of which have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to education (and those that do, are big charter supporters).  In fact… El Som wrote about my confrontation with Rep. Dennis E. Williams:

It’s one thing to vote for HB 165, the aforementioned charter schools bill. It’s another thing to have no idea what the bill did while voting for it. Our beloved Pandora cornered Rep. Williams at a recent Drinking Liberally, and asked him if he knew what the bill he voted for did.  Multiple dissemblings (‘We have lots of bills go through, I don’t read every single one’) later, he admitted he had no clue what the bill did. There are bills, and there are bills. This was an important bill, and Williams’ futile attempt to BS his way through was seen by those present for what it was: BS. Which raises the question: What else is he BS’ing about? That conversation alone probably cost him a couple of spots on this list.

Frankly, it should have cost him more than a couple of spots on El Som’s list.  :-)   Basically, the job of a legislator is to write bills and to read and vote on bills.  Williams admission that he didn’t read a highly controversial, highly publicized bill is shocking.  And he didn’t read it.  He couldn’t name one (one!) thing in HB 165.  NOT ONE.  Very embarrassing, and if he doesn’t have time to read bills, he should resign.

But… back to the class size waiver.  I’m anxious to see how this plays out.  Perhaps it’s time for districts – who have been being hammered and the only ones receiving bad press every time they vote for a waiver – to kick this toothless, unfunded law back to the legislature, mainly because the legislature used the class size issue with all the feel good nonsense of a flag burning bill.  The legislature owns this mess.  Hopefully, Red Clay’s vote will make them step up to the plate… of course, they’d actually have to have read the law, which, given past history, might not have been the case.  Just sayin’


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A stay-at-home mom with an obsession for National politics.

Comments (20)

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  1. mediawatch says:

    If I remember correctly, regardless of the actual wording, the real purpose of the law was to give the legislators a way of punting the issue back to the school boards. And they have succeeded.
    There never has been any intention at the state level to fund elementary schools so they could have just 22 students in every class.
    Prior to the law’s passage, districts typically had more than 22 (or whatever the number was in the unit count formula at the time) kids in an elementary class, and almost everybody understood why (i.e., you’ve got to take your art, music and PE teachers out of the unit allotment or pay for them entirely with local funds).
    The only difference with the law is that the school board has to vote to request a waiver, which the state automatically grants.
    So, it looks to the public like it’s the school board’s problem when the funding shortfall is the result of the state funding system.
    And it will be a cold day in hell before that changes.

  2. Jason330 says:

    Can you explain this to someone who doesn’t know the basics?

    Prior to the law’s passage, districts typically had more than 22 …kids in an elementary class, and almost everybody understood why (i.e., you’ve got to take your art, music and PE teachers out of the unit allotment or pay for them entirely with local funds).

  3. mediawatch says:

    Glad to, Jason. I’ve been following this for about 40 years, but I don’t know all the unit count numbers like I did when paying attention to it was a full-time job.

    Anyhow, the education unit count system provides funding to districts based on how many students you have at particular grade levels. Here’s a simple example. In this case, 22 elementary students equals one teacher unit. Let’s say that a grade school has 110 students in grades 1, 2 and 3, or 330 total. So it gets 15 teacher units — 5 per grade. But the school wants to have a music teacher, an art teacher and a gym teacher. Unless it wants to pay for them entirely out of the local budget, it takes them out of the unit allocation. Now you’ve got state money for 12 classroom teachers — 4 in each grade.
    Divide 4 teachers by 110 students, and you’ve got 27.5 students per classroom.
    Few schools have enrollment numbers that come close to this simple example, and that’s why art/music/PE teachers often are split between two buildings.

  4. Jason330 says:

    What a shitty allocation system. Art, Music and PE correlate strongly to achievement and make going to school bearable.

  5. pandora says:

    Look, I’m the first one to think there’s a problem with the allocation – and importance ranking – of the allocation system. I guess I’m just okay with placing blame where it’s due – on the legislature. Without this unfunded law, districts would still have tough decisions to make. With this law, legislators get a pass – especially those who can’t even be bothered with reading a flippin’ bill (You know who!)

  6. cassandra_m says:

    This is another demonstration of the lack of seriousness about making education a priority. If class size was important enough to mandate a number, persistently waiving that requirement not only undermines the importance of small class sizes but also lets too many (the GA and the Gov) avoid the important resources questions. Again.

  7. mediawatch says:

    They’ve been doing it for years.
    Back in the day (as in pre-deseg in ’78), many districts, especially in northern NCCo, would have the public support to set tax rates high enough to pay for teachers in special subjects entirely from local funds.
    After deseg began, the legislature sure as hell was not going to do anything to make it look like it was supporting a school system established by a federal court order, and public support for the schools waned at the same time. The state pulled back, the taxpayers pulled back, and the districts were pretty much left only with the money provided via the state formula to hire teachers.
    Eventually parents start to complain, and the General Assembly responds with its clever solution: create an unfunded mandate and give school boards a way to avoid it through the waiver system. It costs no money, it keeps the GA and the school boards happy, and it leaves parents pointing fingers with no chance of success (until last week’s developments in Red Clay).

  8. Bill Dunn says:

    Way back in ’98 when Red Clay had 13 early elementary school programs (and some of Baltz’s classrooms had already been redefined as office space), I believe we wrote 29 (K-3) classroom waivers. Since then they added TWO additional elementary schools (with a third on the way) netting maybe 40 new rooms so far (not including additional trailers). At the time, in the rooms where we wrote the waivers, we were over by 3 or 4 students.
    Now, if you add the gross increase in students (Pre-K to 5) of 671 plus eliminating the 29 old waivers and dividing that by 40 additional classrooms, you could seat every one of those students in classes less than 20 students per…
    The Board members that voted against writing waivers should be commended and apparently, Faith Newton who I have always respected has taken her parent hat off and put her old District Administrator hat back on.

  9. Mike Matthews says:

    This is a discussion that has been a long time coming — too long of a time.

    Let me first call out TNJ a bit. I feel that this article was lacking the perspective of a classroom educator. I spoke with Albright for a bit. Not saying he needed to use anything I said, but when you have our District PIO, Pati Nash, saying that there’s a potential for teachers being reassigned here and then DON’T have a teacher response to that, then we have a problem. TNJ should have included some teacher quotes. I’ve nothing against what Ms. Nash said and have a great working relationship with her, but there needed to be more. I received half a dozen “worried” emails from members today saying “Is my job safe?”

    Now — I would like to call out someone. Sen. Bryan Townsend does not live in Red Clay, but he came to and spoke at our Board meeting last week. He spoke eloquently and strongly about the need for change in Dover on this issue. We have often used the line “No one in Dover wants to do anything about this” as a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve heard it at least three times in the past week. Bullshit. First off, we as Districts haven’t done enough to engage our teachers, parents, and communities to take action. Yes, our legislators should have been more engaged on this, but it starts in those home districts.

    I think Sen. Townsend is ready to have these discussions and I am SO thankful he spoke to our Board last week.. I’ve also spoken with Reps. Kim Williams and Paul Baumbach. They are ready to have this conversation, as well. Members of the Red Clay and Christina School Board are ready to have these conversations.

    And we need continued coverage from you good folks here at DL and, yes, TNJ, to keep this flame stoked. Enough is enough. Our kids are not well served (particularly in high-poverty schools) when class sizes go above 22. And we’re talking some classes with 28.

    Something has to change.

  10. Ezra Temko says:

    Why is the class size law only applicable to K-3?

  11. Mike Matthews says:

    “Legislative discretion,” perhaps?

  12. pandora says:

    Bill, you know I love you, but your comment about Faith Newton wasn’t fair.

    I’m interested in seeing how this plays out, but let’s not pretend this class size law is cut and dried. The blame lies with the legislature. They need to fund it or change it.

  13. mediawatch says:

    Yes, Pandora, the GA has to change it, but the impetus for the change has to come from the governor and DOE. The budget process starts with them, and any significant revisions sought by the GA on behalf of the public must run back through the governor and DOE. (As in, when Townsend, Baumbach or some member of the JFC asks “how much will it cost?” it will be up to DOE to crunch the numbers on additional staffing and up to Markell to weigh that number against what else he wants to add to the budget without exceeding the DEFAC revenue estimate.
    Markell is in a good position to advocate a change because he’s not running again, but 2014 ends with an even number, and you know how legislators feel about raising taxes in an election year.

  14. Dana says:

    During the short time I lived in Hockessin, there was one school tax increase or bond issue — I don’t recall which — which was on the ballot. Of course, half the people had their kids in private schools, so no, they weren’t going to vote to increase their taxes to pay for the public schools.

  15. John Young says:

    They are not “bucking the law” they are EMBRACING the law that calls for caps.

    They are bucking the clause in the law that gives them a free pass to BREAK the law.

    Bravo Red Clay BOE!

  16. Joanne Christian says:

    Sorry posters–they fumbled this one. There are other ways to work around this while the issue is prescient–VOTING AGAINST—will unleash bedlam for all those kids, employees, finances, occupancies, etc..

    This is board work on the OTHER days, not grandstanding on a critical, necessary, deadline day. And it has been done. WORD.


  17. pandora says:

    I’m torn on this, Joanne. Which is why I could see both quoted board members points.

    On the one hand, RCCD is about to get hit with a big bill they haven’t budgeted for – because the mandate is unfunded. That’s gonna hurt – and it’s going to hurt on the local district/taxpayer/teacher/child level.

    On the other hand, it’s past time for this nonsense to be addressed – either deny legislators’ their bogus talking point by repealing the law, or make them fund it. It’s a sort of short game/long game view.

  18. Joanne Christian says:

    Yes it is pandora–but if board members especially, and parents aren’t talking w/ Dover about this issue—you don’t lay it at the feet of risk for a school year to the peril of real life little children, employees, and district finances.

    And YES–board members need to be forcing this issue in Dover. GET DOWN THERE!!!

    And lastly, all these parents applauding aren’t so happy when IT’S THEIR KID who gets moved to the newly formed 2nd grade or whatever. Everybody thinks the law is for the other guy. Just wait till the complaints come of “My child hates change….my child loves this teacher…..all my kids had this teacher….but all her friends are in that room……”

    Just sayin’–there are other ways to mitigate WHILE board members are doing the work they should be doing in Dover.

    I haven’t seen any article yet, but I’ll look for it, since you mentioned one. Just going from experience, and the reality of things.

  19. Bill Dunn says:

    I think somebody is missing the point. This is not an “unfunded mandate” for the sake of it…… It’s unfunded because when it was established, the argument was that “your infringing on ‘Local Control’ and surely Dover is incapable of understanding local community needs better than the local Boards. You have to allow us to make the final decision. Oh yeah, by the way, it would be really nice if we can get a couple more Academic Excellences units (i.e. funded teachers units) if you find any laying around.”

    If anybody wants to make that argument, I’d argue poor budgeting. (Let’s not get started on Red Clay and budgeting.) You mean to tell me; in close to fifteen years since implementation, with the addition of TWO elementary schools and another on the way, District Administration and some member(s) of the Board having advanced degrees in education, they’re “incapable” of figuring out how to meet K-3 class size requirements? There was 6 weeks between the September 30th count and the Board meeting. Assuming the Administration hadn’t figured out by Sept. 6th what K-3 head count was going to be, in what year can we expect them to NOT come to the Board and request waivers???

    Surely there is space to be had….. Find the damn money! If you need help, give me a call. I have a few suggestions.

  20. John Young says:

    Joanne, the peril to kids is passing the waiver every year and never forcing the solution. Yes, forcing it. The districts have been permitted to side step the law AND avoid confronting the problem with a solution that fixes classes BECAUSE the waiver is in the law.

    It is not grandstanding at all, it’s just doing the right thing.

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