By Abby Spegman • The Bulletin

Small classes cost money. In a state that lags in education funding, local school officials say they’re not shocked by the latest report on Oregon’s class sizes.

The Oregon Department of Education this week released numbers on the median class size for every school and district by grade or subject from the 2014-15 school year. In Bend-La Pine it was 26 students and in Redmond it was 27. The region’s smaller districts all came in under the state’s median: Crook County and Sisters at 24; Jefferson County and Culver at 23.

The state’s median class size was 25. Teachers say the difference between 25 and 30 students in class is a big jump.

“Just physically trying to squeeze those bodies in there, that’s an issue. What about trying to meet their individual academic needs? Their social needs, their emotional needs? It just stretches the teacher so thin,” said Don Stearns, president of the Bend Education Association. “You get to the point where the teacher is just trying to keep their head above water.”

This is the first time the state collected such detailed information on class size, and ODE is warning some data reporting errors may skew the results. For instance, Tumalo Community School reported a median kindergarten class of 45 students. Principal Justin Nicklous said that was likely the morning and afternoon classes combined, and that the actual size was closer to 22, which was the state’s median kindergarten class size.

The report does not indicate whether larger classes had multiple teachers or education assistants assigned to them.

Large classes in Oregon are not new. In a survey last year backed by ODE and groups representing teachers and school administrators, three out of four Oregon teachers said their class sizes do not allow them to effectively support their students. Of the 17 states that conducted the survey, Oregon educators reported the most concern over class size, according to ODE.

But keeping class sizes down means paying for more teachers or adding facilities when they get too crowded. Redmond Superintendent Mike McIntosh said class sizes are a reflection of how much money schools get. He called Redmond’s class sizes “reasonable by comparison,” noting the state has a long way to go.

Bend-La Pine’s median class sizes last year generally matched the district’s goals, which range from 22 students in kindergarten up to 31 students in fifth grade. Those aren’t necessarily ideal class sizes but what the district can realistically achieve based on the money it has to hire teachers, said Deputy Superintendent Jay Mathisen.

“It’s difficult to come to a consensus on what the best class size number would be,” he said, noting the district is always trying to keep class sizes down, particularly in the early grades where research shows small classes benefit students the most.

This session, the Legislature created a task force of teachers, parents, administrators and school board members to determine the appropriate class sizes based on grade, types of students and subject areas and identify methods and costs to reduce class sizes.

The task force is to report its findings to the Legislature by September 2016.

Stearns, the union president, is supporting a campaign to raise the corporate minimum tax in the state for companies that have more than $25 million a year in sales. That money could go to schools to lower class sizes. Organizers of the “A Better Oregon” campaign are working to get the proposed tax increase on the November 2016 ballot.

The class size report is the latest to come from ODE. Earlier this month it released school and district report cards that list student demographics and test scores compared to similar schools and districts. It has also released numbers on homeless students and students considered chronically absent.

— Reporter: 541-617-7837,

aspegman@bendbulletin.com

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