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Peter, meet Paul

Apr 13, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The logistical, fiscal and, sadly, personal realities of the State of Wyoming's mandate that most elementary school class sizes be no bigger than 16 students for every certified teacher hit home this week as Fremont County School District 25 in Riverton laid out what is going to be necessary this fall in order to come into compliance.

District 25 has found a way to get it done. But not without some serious administrative contortions that wouldn't be necessary if the state would see to it that the district has the funding it needs to meet the mandate and continue with its core educational mission.

So, while the announcement that eight new elementary teachers and a new principal are to be hired is good news for the teaching job market, the same can't be said for the positions elsewhere in the district that are being eliminated so that the financial books can be balanced.

That list was tough to read: 14 paraprofessionals gone, three reading coaches gone, two reading intervention jobs, a writing intervention post, a parent liaison slot, a behavior interventionist, and at least eight more jobs and/or programs that were proud parts of the District 25 lineup until now.

There is some contradiction here. Does it make sense to require District 25 to shoehorn another 150-something kids into the already well-used Rendezvous building to achieve a state-ordered classroom size? In other words, is crowding the way to reduce crowding?

Presumably the reason behind requiring smaller classrooms is to improve the quality of education. But how well does that objective jibe with the simultaneous elimination of other academic programs and specialists also there, presumably, to enhance education? In other words, is eliminating educational emphasis the way to improve education?

Perhaps the idea is that smaller classroom sizes will reduce the need for so much intervention, remediation and academic coaching. We'd better hope that's the case, because we're sending a lot of qualified, experienced people out the door who were considered necessary parts of the academic program until the day this shakeup was announced. Once the almighty standardized test scores are unveiled next time around, lots of eyes will be on them to get a read on whether this approach will have done what it's supposed to.

These educators whose jobs are being eliminated were there for a reason. The passage of a law by the Wyoming Legislature cannot, at the stroke of a pen, eliminate that reason. There is strong sense that the new coins Paul suddenly finds in his pockets have been snatched from those of Peter a short time before.

District 25 is doing its damnedest to meet these new state mandates. The same cannot be said for the state, which has passed the dictate of smaller class sizes without providing the local schools with a way to pay for it other than through extraordinary means that would seem to be contrary to what the smaller class sizes are supposed to achieve.

Most of the lawmakers in Cheyenne who are forcing this down our throats are quick to decry "unfunded mandates" ordered by the federal government upon Wyoming. Now it's easy to accuse the Legislature of doing the same thing to the local school districts.

This requirement handed down from Cheyenne with no money to pay for it is putting School District 25 through the wringer. It had better work.

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