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Riverton school system working to make classes smaller

Jan 29, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

Fremont County School District 25 superintendent Terry Snyder said the Riverton school system is continuing to work toward meeting the state mandate of smaller class sizes in the lower grade levels.

"There has been a lot of energy put into this," Snyder said during a dinner Jan. 24 at Lander Middle School attended by county school officials and local legislators.

Averaging 19.3 students per teacher in K-3 classes, Snyder said Riverton has the highest student-per-teacher ratio statewide. This is three students too many under a 2011 law that requires class sizes in K-3 average 16 students per teacher.

"This did not surprise me," Snyder said. "We are going to have to apply for that waiver."

According to the Wyoming Department of Education's website, districts seeking a waiver from the ratio requirement have until March 15 to explain to the WDE as to why the district did not meet the mandate, provide an explanation why the district will qualify for one of the exceptions and provide an explanation of the district's current efforts to meet the ratio.

The exceptions are: insufficient school capacity, positive school performance, positive student achievement and other reasons related to the delivery of education programs to students.

Busting at the seams

In a summary of K-3 enrollment and ratios, Snyder said Riverton had 33 teachers educating 823 students in K-3 in May. This produced a 24.9-1 ratio.

Five more teachers were hired in August, and the district anticipated an 825-student enrollment.

Snyder said the district was able to make space for those five extra classes by "moving things around."

"We're out of those easy answers on space," he said.

By September, enrollment had ballooned to 882 kids, a 10.5 percent increase from May. The student-to-teacher ratio increased to 23.2-1.

Snyder said the district has since hired eight more teachers to accommodate an 886-student enrollment. The elementary schools have each come up with their own way to handle the additional class sections.

In order to get to the 16-to-1 ratio, Riverton needs to hire another 10 teachers.

"No classrooms (are) available for these 10 teachers without major remodeling and disruption of existing programs," Snyder said in his report.

"We don't have the space," he said. "It's not just the financial burden, it's also facilities."

Snyder asked attending legislators in the future to make sure the School Facilities Department considers a building's capacity when it assesses its suitability.

"We appreciate Wyoming funds education at 16-to-1," he said. "We appreciate that commitment, but people are going to need help with our facilities. Sixteen-to-1 impacts staffing and facilities."