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Community Voices Class Size Concerns

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A small-town school is facing a big problem. The Wilton school board recently decided to have two first grade classrooms instead of three, putting 30 students in each room. The average amount of students for a classroom in Iowa is 18. In the Davenport Community School District, and in Mercer County, there are around 20 students per first grade classroom. There are around 24 on average for the Rock Island Milan district. Parents, teachers and other community members in Wilton are saying 30 is too large.

"I don't think it paints a very good picture of those who want to come here," one parent said at the Wilton school board meeting Monday.

Right now, there would be one teacher and one paraeducator per classroom. Superintendent Joe Burnett says they're all certified teachers.

"The reality is we have four licensed teachers for 60 kids, which puts that ratio at 15 to one versus 30 to one," he said.

Like most schools, the district is paid per student enrolled. The amount of money is $6,300 per student enrolled in Wilton. However, Superintendent Burnett says enrollment has declined over the past 15 years, which means there is less money to pay teachers.

The paraeducators are paid with separate, "at risk" funds that are typically meant to go toward teaching students with special needs. However, he says the paraeducators would not primarily be working one on one with students.

"They can take kids and go to different spots in the classroom," he said. "We have some empty classrooms. They can take kids to pull them out."

Still, many people say they're against the idea, and are suggesting the district tap into reserved funds.

"If your car breaks down, you have to get it fixed," said Pam Freeland, whose grandchildren are enrolled in the district. You have to go into your savings and fix your car. You've got a problem, you've got to fix it. This is a problem that needs to be fixed, and they say, 'Well what happens three or four years down the road?' Well, you know, let's cross this bridge."

61 first graders are currently enrolled for the upcoming school year. If enrollment increases to 65, the district could get around $25,000 through statewide cost per pupil, and could hire another teacher for a third classroom. The school board also discussed the possibility of consolidation should the budget issues not get resolved.

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