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Budget cuts lead to crowded classes in Tigard-Tualatin schools

Three teachers hired to ease stress of bulging classroooms
by: Jaime Valdez Joseph Mattecheck, 6, builds a tower of blocks in his kindergarten class. Mattecheck is one of more than 100 kindergarteners at Bridgeport Elementary School this year, the largest class the school has seen in years.

School is back in session in Tigard-Tualatin schools and classes are filled with students - literally.

While specific numbers won't be available until October, initial reports estimate enrollment for the Tigard-Tualatin School District to be 100 students higher than expected in the district's high schools and about 50 in the district's three middle schools.

Average class sizes at Tigard and Tualatin high schools are expected to be about 35 students per classroom this year, Superintendent Rob Saxton told the Tigard-Tualatin School Board Monday, and some classes could have more than 40 students in them.

'Barely have room'

Ernie Brown, the human resource director for the district, said the enrollment boom isn't unexpected after millions were cut from the budget last year and the district lost 32 teachers through lay-offs and retirements.

'We knew going into this year that class sizes were going to be larger than what we experienced in the past,' he said. 'It's not a pleasant thing to tell you, but when you look at class sizes that are 35 to 38 students, we were predicting we were going to have class sizes that large. It's not ringing the alarm bells because that is what we were expecting.'

Despite the warnings, many teachers and parents say the growth and its impacts are hard to take.

'We barely have room to breath,' said Twality Middle School teacher Sarah Waddell, whose largest class consists of 34 seventh- grade students. 'I know Twality is not unique in this situation. All across the district we are seeing class sizes that are too big to handle. At some point, teaching does suffer and management is all we can do. I feel that way with my class of 34.'

School Board Member Barry Albertson agreed that large class sizes will make it difficult for teachers to educate their students effectively.

'Classes this large affect instructional time and the time you spend managing the class,' he said. 'Boy, this year is going to be rugged in both those categories.'

Board Member Jill Zurschmeide agreed.

'It's not going to be an easy year to be a student, and it's not going to be an easy year to be a teacher,' she said. 'It's going to be hard all the way around.'

Scheduling an issue

To combat the stress of bulging classrooms, three additional teachers were hired to work at Mary Woodward, Alberta Rider and Bridgeport elementary schools.

'We knew our kindergarten classes were big, but we didn't get the final word until the Friday before the teachers reported in,' said Bridgeport Elementary School Principal Jerry Nihill.

Bridgeport Elementary saw an additional 25 kindergarteners enroll this year.

'This is the biggest kindergarten class we've had in the six years that I've been here,' Nihill said.

Hiring additional teachers at the elementary school level is relatively simple, Brown said, but given the complicated nature of middle school and high school scheduling, where thousands of students are affected by a single class change, it becomes much more difficult.

'It is very difficult to change the schedule, and it becomes more and more problematic the farther out you go into the year,' he said.

If there is good news about the large enrollment, Saxton said, it is that that the increased student body could mean increased funding for the district, which in turn could enable the district to alleviate some of the overcrowding.

Final enrollment numbers will be tallied Oct. 1.

'If we keep our enrollment up, we will have some opportunities to do something about class sizes,' Saxton said. 'That is something we are trying to figure out as fast as we can.'

Saxton said that as large as class sizes are right now, the district is still in better shape than others across the state.

'When we compare ourselves to other class sizes around the area, we still have a really good number,' he said.