ST. CHARLES – The St. Charles School District 303 Board approved a balanced operating budget for 2017-18 on Sept. 11. But some parents attending the board meeting asked why the district didn't spend more money to reduce class sizes.
The new operating budget reflects revenue of about $172.5 million and expenses of $170.4 million. The district also expects to have $2 million surplus in reserve funds at the end of the year, though all of those funds are earmarked for construction, if they are still available in the future.
Several residents with children at Bell-Graham and Wasco elementary schools said the district should allocate more of its funds for additional teachers. Corron Elementary School parents also recently addressed the board with the same request.
The parents want the district to end its “cap and send” policy. Under the policy, the district caps elementary class sizes at 29 and sends any additional students enrolled in that grade to other schools, rather than creating more sections with fewer students.
Brad Van Kamp has a third-grader at Wasco. The school has two third-grade classrooms with 29 students each. When more than 58 third-graders enrolled, the district applied cap and send, which Van Kamp said is “a back-door way of doing redistricting.”
Van Kamp said classrooms are not large enough to accommodate 29 students. He added that some teachers have created tables with five students because of the limited space for individual desks. He believes this arrangement could lead to behavioral problems among students.
Michelle Thompson, who also has a Wasco third-grader, agreed.
“This class size raises the stress level of students and can cause higher absentee rates,” Thompson said.
Since school started, much of the instruction in her child's classroom has focused on the problem of students talking during class, Thompson said.
Zack Kluczenko, whose daughter goes to Bell-Graham, noted that some District 303 elementary schools have classes with 16 students. The district's average elementary class size is 22.
“We're sitting with 29,” Kluczenko said. “When we have that big of a disparity, I think there's a problem.”
School Board President Kathy Hewell thanked the residents for their comments. She said district officials have not yet discussed what to do with the district's surplus funds.
Maintaining the surplus is important, district officials said, because of financial uncertainties, including the amount of state aid the district will receive and potential cost increases for the Thompson Middle School construction project.
Hewell said there is a good chance that the surplus “will be grabbed away from us.”