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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Capping class sizes at Meridian Ranch Elementary

Falcon School District 49 is planning to cap the number of students per class at Meridian Ranch Elementary School and bus the overflow to Woodmen Hills Elementary, according to a district presentation at Meridian Ranch March 17. Large existing class sizes, increasing school population because of residential growth in the area and a lack of space prompted the new policies. Monty Lammers, assistant superintendent in charge of the Falcon Zone, and Kim Leon, principal of Meridian Ranch Elementary School, spoke to about 25 parents who attended the meeting about the new class cap plan. Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, kindergarten enrollment will be limited to 23 students per teacher. Each higher grade would have one more student per class, with a limit of 28 students for fifth-grade classrooms. Any students moving into the Meridian Ranch boundaries would be bused to Woodmen Hills Elementary until there is an opening at Meridian Ranch.ìFalcon has typically had a lot of growth, changing from the Woodmen Hills area to now the Meridian Ranch area,î Lammers said. ìWith that growth, we see a lot of flux in numbers with students, and where our class numbers aren’t in balance between schools.î The district evaluated options to even out class numbers to make the balance fair among the different parts of the zone, he said.Adding teachers and classrooms at a particular school creates the opposite problem of having too few students per class and a payroll usage problem, he said. ìWe average about $55,000 in total expenses per teacher,î Lammers said. ìTeachers are surprised when we use that number because they say they aren’t making that much, but it includes PERA and all the benefits.î A similar capping system at Falcon Elementary School allowed the district to save $110,000 in payroll costs, which they were able to use to purchase new technology resources for the students, he said.Parents asked why builders and planners did not allow for a larger number of students. ìWe’ve already passed core capacity for this location,î Lammers said. ìWe can’t add on any additional wings because the gym and lunch room are full. We planned on having two additional elementary schools in the area by this point. They were on the last two bond measures, which failed on their ballots. We can’t just build without it being approved by the voters.îThe costs associated with moving a set of modular classrooms is also much higher than the cost of moving students among schools. A new eight-class modular building is almost $900,000, Lammers said. If the bond passes, the district hopes to have the new elementary schools ready in 2016. At that point, families who live in the Meridian Ranch boundaries will have the option to move their students back to the school. Families who live in the boundaries of the newly built schools will not have the option to stay in Meridian Ranch or Woodmen Hills. They will be required to move to the new school, Lammers said.Lammers and Leon made it clear to the parents that no student already enrolled at Meridian Ranch will be moved to Woodmen Hills. ìIt absolutely won’t affect anyone currently enrolled, and we don’t expect to have to cap kindergarten next year,î Lammers said. ìIf we get to that point, priority will go to siblings of other Meridian students.îThe typical pattern of students moving out of the school over the course of a year will allow the district the flexibility to make sure siblings of existing students will have the ability to go to the same school as the rest of their family. ìSince August, we’ve had 60 new enrollments but 43 de-enrollments, so open slots come up during the year,î Leon said.The district has not submitted grant applications to the Building Excellent Schools Today state school construction fund to help build the new sites without local money, Lammers said. ìWe had to look at the probability of getting a BEST grant,î Lammers said. ìTalking to the people who dole out that grant money, there is very little to zero likelihood that we would receive a grant for this.îLammers and Leon encouraged the parents who attended to help talk to families moving into the area about the plan and the bond measure, which the district believes will solve some of the issues. ìThere is no plan B if the bond measure fails,î Lammers said.

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