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Budget cuts mean classes get bigger

Deficit reduction ‘a huge success’

STERLING – Because of budget cuts, the average class size in Sterling schools has grown.

In elementary schools, class sizes generally hovered around 20 in 2008, rising to 25 to 30 in many cases this year.

“We are cognizant of class size, but it’s not a big determinant in student learning,” Superintendent Tad Everett told the school board Wednesday. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has found little correlation between class size and student performance.”

Instead, he said, the quality of teachers is a lot more important, so recruitment and training are key.

The increase in class sizes is largely because of the reduction in the district’s certified staff, Everett said in an interview after the board meeting. To cut its deficit, the district has laid off employees the last couple of years. This year, the district cut its certified staff from 223 to 203.

At its regular meeting, the board approved this year’s final budget, which includes a deficit of $231,000, a significant drop from $1.8 million a couple of years ago. 

In that same time, the district has seen general state aid for the district decline by $2 million. 

Given the circumstances, Everett said in the interview, the district considers the deficit reduction “a huge success.”

He also reported to the board that the percentage of economically disadvantaged students is approaching 60 percent. Studies show that such students often have more limited vocabularies when they enter school, which requires greater resources to address, he said. 

In other business, the board gave the go-ahead to appeal the denial of the district’s attempt to leave the Bi-County Special Education Cooperative, which provides services to students with special needs. Six districts in the co-op voted against Sterling’s request, while four backed it, officials said.

Sterling, which is the co-op’s biggest district, says it wants to leave because it is carrying more than its fair share of the costs. The district wants to provide the services in-house.

“We suspected that this would be the outcome,” Everett said. “This makes our point that we shoulder a big portion of the expenses. There’s a disincentive for them to allow us out.”

As such, the board will appeal the denial to the Whiteside and Carroll-Jo Daviess-Stephenson regional boards of school trustees.

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