Mehlville class-size reduction could occur naturally by 2011

Enrollment projections show drop of 2,000 pupils by 2018

By BURKE WASSON

If Mehlville School District officials want to reduce class size, an administrative study shows that a projected decline in student enrollment could naturally achieve that goal as soon as 2011.

Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Lisa Counts last week presented the study that concluded the district’s academic performance likely would improve through smaller class sizes.

The Nov. 5 session was part of the district’s public-engagement effort, COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

Twelve of 18 tables polled at last week’s community-engagement session identified reducing class size in kindergarten through third grade as the district’s No. 1 priority for staffing. Six of those 18 tables decided that establishing all-day kindergarten should be the district’s top goal for staffing.

While Counts concluded that the maximum allowable pupil-teacher ratio should be 18 pupils per teacher instead of the district’s current overall ratio of 20 pupils per teacher, a recent study of the district’s demographics shows that decreasing class size could occur naturally.

Counts estimates that to reach the desired pupil-teacher ratio of 18-to-1 in kindergarten through third grade, district enrollment would need to decrease by 378 pupils.

That desired average class size in kindergarten through third grade would be reached by the 2011-2012 school year, ac-cording to a recent demographic study of the district performed by regional demographics statistician Charles Kofron.

To reach an average class size of 18 pupils in kindergarten through fifth grade, the district would need to decrease by 702 pupils. Kofron’s study shows that the desired class size for kindergarten through fifth grade would be attained by the 2016-2017 school year.

Based on a moderate level of demographic projections, Mehlville is projected to lose just less than 2,000 pupils from its enrollment by the 2018-2019 school year.

Kofron has estimated that the district’s enrollment of 11,088 pupils at the start of the current school year will drop to an estimated 9,275 pupils based on a moderate level of decline by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.

If the district wanted to reduce class sizes in elementary schools before the projected lower enrollment occurs, Counts has outlined to the costs to do so.

It would cost $935,256 in new teacher salaries to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 18 students per teacher, according to case studies in Counts’ survey. To do so would take 21 new teachers at a first-year salary of $44,536.

The district currently has 141 teachers employed in kindergarten through third grade and has a ratio of 20.2 students per teacher in those grades.

To lower class sizes to 18 pupils from kindergarten through fifth grade, Counts estimates the cost would be $1,736,904. To do so would take 39 new teachers.

The district currently has 208 teachers employed in kindergarten through fifth grade and has a ratio of 20.2 students per teacher in those grades.

If the district were to fund all-day kindergarten, Counts estimates it would take the equivalent of 11.5 new teachers at a new salary cost of $512,164.

The district currently employs the equivalent of 25.5 kindergarten teachers and has a ratio of 19.7 kindergarten students per kindergarten teacher.

If all-day kindergarten classes would move to the desired class-size level of 18 pupils per teacher, that cost would increase from $512,164 to $645,772.

She also concludes that such factors as early intervention, professional development for teachers and a “rigorous curriculum” can help boost student achievement.

Her conclusions were molded from 2006 research studies from the Center for Public Education. Counts’ study also shows the following from class sizes of 18 or less:

• Pupils in small classes from kindergarten to third grade ranged from six to 13 months ahead of pupils in regular class sizes in the subjects of math, reading and science.

• Fourth-grade pupils in small classes were one-third of a grade level ahead of peers in larger classes.

• Smaller class sizes in primary grades have benefits for pupils through their high-school years.

Counts’ study also shows a correlation that student-teacher ratio and per-pupil expenditure have on Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP, scores.

When compared to the school districts of Lindbergh, Webster Groves, Rockwood, Clayton, Kirkwood, Ladue and Liberty, Mehlville’s ratio of 20 pupils per teacher is the highest. As for per-pupil expenditures, Mehlville’s $7,140 expense is the lowest among those districts.

Mehlville’s 2006 MAP scores in communication arts and math in both third grade and eighth grade are also the lowest among those school districts. Third-grade pupils scored an average of 49 percent in both communication arts and math, and eighth-grade pupils scored an average of 54 percent in both communication arts and math.

By comparison, the previously mentioned school districts included in the study all scored an average ranging from 59 percent to 73 percent in each MAP testing category.

Other findings in Counts’ study show that Mehlville is the lowest among those school districts in pupil-to-counselor ratio (402-to-1), pupil-to-administrator ratio (299-to-1) and social workers (none).

Mehlville does have a total of 23 reading teachers for a ratio of 491 students to one, eclipsing the ratios of Rockwood, Ladue, Lindbergh and Liberty.

Mehlville’s nine English Language Learner, ELL, teachers also account for a ratio of 36 ELL pupils per ELL teacher. Only Lindbergh, with three ELL teachers and a ratio of 37 ELL students per ELL teacher, is lower among those school districts.

Mehlville’s six technicians and six instructional technology specialists account for a ratio of 942 pupils per technician, Only Rockwood, with a ratio of 1,696 students per technician, has a lower ratio.

Mehlville’s pupil-to-librarian ratio of 754 students per librarian is ranked ahead of only Lindbergh, which has a ratio of 786 pupils per librarian. Mehlville has 15 librarians while Lindbergh has seven.