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Size of William Kelley sixth-grade class poses challenge

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The Lake Superior School Board is determining how to address the size of the incoming sixth-grade class at William Kelley School.

The sixth grade is predicted to have 32 students next fall. The Board has a general policy of splitting up classes with 30 students or more. This particular class has been split into two classes every year since kindergarten, as it also has a high number of students with special needs.

The Board met Monday, June 4, for a workshop to further discuss items raised at the last meeting May 22.

When asked what he recommended, William Kelley Principal Joe Nicklay demurred.

"You've put us in a tight spot because I know what the budget is," Nicklay said. "I know we need to save money. I know what I'd love to see, which is two sixth grades. But I also know the money situation and how that would continue the trend of deficit spending."

Adding another teacher, especially a seasoned teacher, would add another $80,000 to $90,000 to the budget. Currently, the budget has nearly $600,000 of proposed cuts and revenue changes to make up a deficit.

To address the problem, but not add to the deficit, Board members looked at two possible solutions.

One solution was to shift the sixth grade into the middle school model. Nicklay described the proposal as a "scheduling nightmare," but it could possibly allow a better student and teacher ratio. Another possible downside to this proposal would be integration of sixth-graders with high school students.

"The concern is that we're taking our neediest kids, and it's not a middle school; it's a high school. There's no separation in the building. So, you're moving them in with the seniors and juniors. They have to go back and forth and that can be disorienting for them," Nicklay said.

Another possible solution was to find the money elsewhere in the budget. It is possible for the Board to ask the teachers' union for half of the money set aside for staff development. Superintendent Bill Crandall said this had been done in the past as an emergency scenario. Two percent of the district general fund is dedicated to staff development. The Board can request 1 percent, or roughly $140,000, to be rededicated. In this case, it would be rededicated to another sixth-grade teacher for WKS. Crandall said he would approach the union to see if this is a possibility.

The Two Harbors High School sixth-grade class was also addressed. At the last meeting, Principal Jay Belcastro proposed a change to the sixth-grade model, which would decrease class sizes, but has set the plan aside, keeping the model from this past school year.

However, keeping this model means classes are expected to have 27-29 students each.

With that in mind, the Board recommended adding a fourth class if enough money from the proposed staff development reallocation would fund the position.

The school board will vote on a budget, including the proposed cuts, for the 2018-19 school year at the next meeting at Two Harbors High School on Tuesday, June 12, at 6 p.m.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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