Compared to the other major school districts in Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has a low pupil/teacher ratio (PTR), according to the 2017-2018 school year class size report, but the ratio doesn’t show the whole picture district, officials said.
During a work session on Monday, the school board analyzed this year’s report, which details the class size and configurations across the district’s 44 schools based off of attendance on Oct. 2, the first day of the On-Line Alaska School Information System (OASIS) Count, which is used to determine student-based revenue from the state.
In one analysis, the report breaks the numbers down by school type with an average PTR, which is the total school enrollment divided by the full-time employees in the building, of 19.4 at large high schools, 19.1 at middle schools, 23 at elementary schools and 16.4 at small schools across the district, such as Cooper Landing and Ninilchik.
By comparison, Juneau School District clocked in with 2015-2016 averages at 24.75 at the elementary level, 24.5 at the middle school level and 29.25 at the high school level. Anchorage’s numbers are similar, with an average PTR of 23.2 at the elementary level, 26.8 at the middle schools and 29.5 at the high schools, according to Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien.
“We have a pretty decent PTR and very decent class sizes in this district,” O’Brien said during the work session. “I believe that’s one of the reasons why we’re one of the highest performing districts in the state, because of the investment we have made to make comfortable class sizes for teachers and students.”
These averages, though, don’t all fall within the staffing district’s staffing formulas. Currently, the district calls for a PTR of one teacher per 22.5 students in grades one to three and one teacher to 24.5 students in grades four through six.
In elementary schools with between 100 and 249 students the district staffs based on a formula of one teacher per 19.5 pupils. From grades seven to 12, larger schools are staffed at a ratio of one to 25. Small schools are staffed at a ratio of 1 to 17.5.
Since the PTR includes all full-time staff, it isn’t always the best indicator of what is happening inside a classroom according to Superintendent Sean Dusek.
“When you look at what is actually happening in the classroom, the number to look at is class size,” Dusek said.
The class size average, in comparison to the PTR, is the number of students enrolled in classes divided by the number of classes offered. In large high schools throughout the district, the average class size is 19.7. The class size average in middle schools is 21.2. In elementary schools it is 21.7 and in the small schools it is 13.7.
“It’s the most valuable piece,” Dusek said. “You can see how many kids were served by a particular teacher.”
This causes some concern among school board members, though, since PTR is how the district determines budget and staffing needs.
“It’s frustrating that we budget on PTR and we talk about PTR, it’s out in the public as the terminology that we use but then when we look at things like this and see PTR, there is a lot of ‘well, that doesn’t include this or that,’” said Board of Education Vice-President Zen Kelly. “It seems that if we’re going to budget on PTR, the PTR column should come very close to fitting what our guidelines are for that grade.”
But, according to Dusek, staffing formulas and PTR are more complex because of attendance and the roles that different full-time staff play within the school building, since a full-time staff member will be included in the PTR rate but may only work directly with a handful of special education students.
“It’s kind of chicken and egg,” Dusek said. “We need PTR in the budget. Then the kids actually show up and the principal has to make adjustments, and then we have to make adjustments.”
Breaking the information down even further, the district computed the average annual class size for core classes throughout the district including language arts, math, science and social studies. High schools across the district vary in class sizes, with Homer Flex having an average of 7.7 students in each language arts class to Soldotna Prep having an average of 23.3 students, which is toward the high end of all the core classes sizes.
“There are really nice averages, actually, in all the areas,” said Board President Penny Vadla.
Throughout the district, only 60 classes fall into the 30-or-more student range and those that do are most often a music, band or choir class, Dusek said. This year, there are no elementary classes with 30 or more students.
Also included in the report were the number of students that are enrolled in a distance education course, which is 1,040.
“That’s the number of students we had on that October date that are enrolled in a distance course,” O’Brien said. “Those are not 1,040 different kids, but 1,040 different course enrollments.”
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