Mt. Pleasant Community School District Title I teachers point to growing class sizes as an area of concern

MT. PLEASANT — At Mt. Pleasant Community School District’s school board meeting on Jan. 14, board members became students again as they broke down words to separate sounds and determined where vowel pairs “ai” and “ay” go in words.

Through a brief presentation, Title I Reading teachers Amanda Reynolds, Martha Lisantti, Kelly Burgmeier and Heather Duncan demonstrated to the board of directors the importance of teaching students the fundamentals of reading.

Reynolds, Lisantti, Burgmeier and Duncan, who lead the board through exercises they usually do with their own students, provide reading interventions to kindergartners through fifth-graders throughout the district. The interventions help students who may be behind in learning phonics and comprehension, specifically in reading. Breaking down the number of students each teacher serves, Reynolds noted that she works with 29 students at Van Allen Elementary School and 10 at Salem. Alongside Reynolds, Duncan serves another 46 students at Van Allen. Lisantti works with 59 students at Harlan while Burgmeir works with 49 students at Lincoln.

Following their demonstration, the teachers noted an area of concern, explaining that they “are now serving more students and group sizing is not ideal for the most effective intervention.”

While the district’s decision to change Title I from a targeted program (serving first through third-graders) to a schoolwide program (serving kindergarten through fifth grade students) allows the teachers to provide more services to students in need, Lisantti noted that staff size has not increased to meet that need.

“About six years ago, we went school-wide … It presented us with a lot of opportunities so that we can go in and work with a student and we don’t have to have permission from the parents necessarily. And a student can receive double dips of services from special ed and from us … there’s definitely a need for students to receive interventions in our district. We’re still the same staff but there are a lot more students we are trying to meet the needs of,” Lisantti said.

“Research says if we meet with students for 30 minutes, for the groups to be no larger than three to five students for this level of intervention to really have a strong impact,” Lisantti added, noting that several teachers have groups of more than five students.

During the meeting, the board also reviewed the district’s comprehensive annual financial report from the previous school year. Ed Chabal, the district’s business and finance director, noted some highlights of the 119 page report, including that total revenues were at $26,313,215 last year, an increase of $619,109 from last year, while total expenditures were $27,004,987, which decreased $162,315 from FY18. The report also calculated cost per pupil in the district was $11,988.

As part of his report, Superintendent Henriksen also mentioned to the board that following the move to a November date for the school board elections, costs were nearly double past numbers. Henriksen explained that the bill from the Henry County Auditor’s Office for the Nov. 5 election was $6,141, with further bills coming from outside counties for the cost of printing ballots. In 2017, the district’s bill for their school board election was $2,996.51.

“We were given a survey by the Iowa Association of School Boards, asking us about the difference of costs and other numbers. I’m assuming what they will do is they will probably talk to legislators at the state house and let them know about the changes,” Henriksen said about the possibility of further changes.

While the superintendent cannot say exactly why the cost of the election was so much higher, he did note that because students of the district reside in portions of Henry, Jefferson, Lee and Van Buren County, ballots had to go out to more polling locations.

Before adjourning, the board entered two closed sessions “to review or discuss records authorized by law to be kept confidential.” The board reviewed two student cases. In the case of Student #12615, the board voted to readmit the student who had previously been expelled starting in the school year’s second semester. The second session was regarding disciplinary action for Student #15295. The board voted to expel the student for the remainder of the current school year and for the first semester of the next.