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Enrollments for start of school year reviewed by Mehlville school board

Class size numbers have been compiled for the start of the 2003-2004 school year and Mehlville School District officials have discovered some classes have higher enrollments than projected.

Administrators have been evaluating class sizes and placing students based on spring and summer enrollment projections, but they wanted to wait 10 days after classes started on Sept. 2 before making any changes.

Board of Education members were scheduled to review district enrollments and class sizes Monday night — after the Call went to press.

Districtwide, enrollment in secondary schools is increasing, while elementary school enrollments are declining.

As a result of the Proposition P districtwide building improvement program, Mehlville now has four middle schools, instead of three, and 10 elementary schools, instead of 11.

That has allowed the district to fully implement the middle-school concept in which sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are housed at four buildings. Previously, only seventh- and eighth-graders were housed at the district's middle schools.

Picking up students because of the transition to middle schools may account for the changes in enrollment, Superintendent Tim Ricker said.

Some grade levels have higher enrollment numbers than administrators anticipated. For instance, the eighth-grade class districtwide, with 1,095 students, is a little larger than prior classes. Also, Mehlville Senior High School's freshman class totaling 628 students is not only the largest class at the school, it also has 102 more students than the Oakville Senior High School freshman class.

"We're going to figure out why," the superintendent said. "We're going to have discussions with kids and their families. It may be more kids coming out of parochial because of an economic issue ... It's a huge jump."

Across the board, individual class sizes are meeting education standards, he said. However, there are some instances where one more student would put classes over the edge.

One example is a third-grade class at Hagemann Elementary School. Under the district's standards, no more than 27 students will be placed into a third-grade classroom. One of the Hagemann third-grade sections is sitting at its maximum occupancy of 27 students, a nearly 10-student jump from the previous year.

The case is the same in one of the third-grade sections at Rogers Elementary School. Its other two sections have 26 students. Also, four sections at Trautwein Elementary School are close to the limit with 26 students.

Ricker said class size is an education issue first and a dollar issue second, but sometimes administrators can't ignore the economics of the situation.

"When you get on that borderline, it's basically a $50,000 decision," Ricker said.

Approximate salary and benefits for a teacher is $50,000, which is how much the district would have to spend every time it adds another class section. And if the district added another section to a borderline class, it would set the standard for other schools, he said.

Ricker said it is not uncommon for schools that typically only have two sections of a particular grade level, like Hagemann, to reach a borderline class size.

Other class sizes in the district may appear smaller, he said. For instance, the kindergarten limit is 25 students per classroom, but many sections across the district have class sizes in the teens. There might be a hearing-impaired student or other students with special needs in the classroom, Ricker said, and school principals made a decision to keep the class size lower.

He said an important factor to keep in mind is that just as students move into the district at the beginning of the year, students move out during the year as well and enrollment numbers will change throughout the year.

Class size reports will be produced monthly and submitted to Board of Education members.

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