A statewide initiative requiring smaller class sizes means Spokane-area districts need more classrooms and teachers.
Spokane Public Schools needs about 120 more classrooms to meet the new requirements, while Central Valley School District needs 42 classrooms and West Valley School District needs 11.
Voters approved the 2014 initiative, which calls for a 17-1 districtwide student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade and larger ratios in higher grades. The money the state provides for K-3 class-size reduction goes toward hiring more teachers – not adding more classrooms.
Statewide, that reduction is estimated to cost about $700 million a year and require the hiring of an additional 15,000 teachers. Although Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation in July 2015 that delayed the initiative for four years, districts are attempting to lower class sizes in anticipation of the change.
A slew of school buildings funded by Spokane Public Schools’ $145 million bond passed in 2015 will lower class ratios for all grades to 21-1 within the district, well short of the 17-1 state mandate. Mark Anderson, associate superintendent, said the district decided not to ask voters to increase tax rates. Instead the district is waiting for the state to provide funding for the facilities. The classroom ratio is a districtwide average, Anderson said.
“Honestly, we didn’t want to jeopardize the long-term plan by jacking the tax rate up to get the 17-1” required for K-3 classes, Anderson said.
The state has offered $200 million in the form of competitive grants to go toward class-size reduction. Spokane Public Schools applied for $8 million from that grant and should find out if the district received the money by the end of the month. Central Valley School District and West Valley School District also applied for money.
Other than the grant, it is unclear how much support the state will provide, Anderson said. Currently, some legislation offer possible ways to provide for the decrease in class size, said Shawn Lewis, Spokane Public Schools lobbyist.
One bill, which has passed both houses, was introduced by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, and allows school districts to remodel older buildings to add classrooms. This only would stay in effect until 2021. Lewis called the bill a good “Band-Aid.”
The Cheney School District will be in compliance for the reduced K-3 class sizes next year, said Kassidy Probert, director of finance.
Over the last five years enrollment has declined in the East Valley School District, said Brian Aiken, the assistant superintendent of operations. That makes it easier to meet the new class-size ratios.
Although West Valley is short 11 classrooms, spokeswoman Sue Shields said between leasing space and remodeling some classrooms the district will meet the 17-1 ratio by the start of the next school year.
“We just feel very fortunate that we are able to provide the space for our youngest students,” she said.
However, for larger districts the gap is too large. Mead School District executive director of student services Jared Hoadley did not know whether the district was on track for the 17-1 ratio, although he said the district is investigating its options. Over the last 10 years, the Mead School District has increased from 8,800 students to 9,800.
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