Staff Photos: Jonathan Phillips
Superintendent Geye Hamby hugs second-grade teacher Kay Humble and Elyssa Riegel as he visits Buford Academy on the first day back to school on Thursday. Hamby makes it a point to stop in every classroom in the Buford city school district on the first day to say hello.
Students heading back to school today were met by fewer teachers, larger classes, and online instructors. Budget cuts have forced thousands of layoffs statewide. The layoffs made it almost impossible for schools to meet constitutionally mandated class size requirement. So, state lawmakers changed the definition of core classes to allow schools to skirt class size requirements.
Doing more with less is the name of the game as students head back to school this month. Thousands of schools opened Monday, to four straight years of budget cuts.
High School principal Rocky Hanna is packing kids into classes in an attempt to teach more students with fewer teachers. “We just continue to be asked to do more with less. Something’s got to give.”
What gave this year are constitutional requirements for small core classes. Last year 900 cores were beholden to a student limit. This year lawmakers cut the list to 300, providing a loophole through class size and according to Mark Pudlow with F-E-A, the state’s largest teachers union, thwarting the will of the people. “That’s kind of their way to get around what voters have voted on twice and what we’ve gone to court to make sure it gets down.”
Reading, writing and arithmetic stayed on the list, but advanced placement classes, literature and foreign languages are a few of the courses no longer capped. Last year there were 25 students in Oakley Van Oss’s Spanish class… now there are 33.
Van Oss taught 125 kids total last year, now he teaches 200. A much larger workload for him, but he says it’s the students who face the real challenge. “I really think that for students having so many students in the classroom, it can be a little bit overwhelming for them.”
Besides slashing the list of core courses, lawmakers are also meeting class size by requiring every incoming freshman to take at least one class online.
In some schools administrators are changing the names of core classes in order to allow more students into the course. The total number of teacher layoffs statewide won’t be known for six weeks, when all district report their staff changes to the Department of Education.