published Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Georgia class-size limits waived at cash-strapped schools

Georgia has relaxed class-size limits since 2009 because of the economic downturn — and they will stay relaxed at cash-strapped area school systems.

School officials in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties are asking the state to renew waivers that will let them increase class sizes to keep costs down.

"We have to do that every year in order to maintain our budget," Walker Schools Superintendent Damon Raines said. "I don't know of any system right now that doesn't have a class-size waiver."

Class limits vary by grade level and program. For example, Walker County's waiver will allow:

• Twenty-six students in kindergarten, up from the state limit of 18.

• First through third grades can have 29 pupils, up from 21.

• Fourth through eighth grades can have 36 students, up from 28.

• Ninth through 12th grades also can have 36 students, up from 32.

Catoosa County Public Schools expects to renew its waiver in July, communications specialist Marissa Brower said.

"We anticipate that we will request a class-size waiver again this year," Brower said in an email. "We have received a class-size waiver the last two years allowing us to exceed the maximum class size by five students."

Dade County Schools Superintendent Shawn Tobin said his district seeks waivers for "budgetary safety reasons."

That is, Dade officials don't want to have a class unexpectedly go over the limit, compelling them suddenly to hire a teacher not budgeted for.

"We've been signing them for the last five years," Tobin said of the waivers.

But he doesn't expect class sizes to swell.

"We've lost 300 kids since 2009," Tobin said, citing the loss of jobs in Dade County and an influx of elderly residents as reasons for declining school enrollment.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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