Port Angeles school board talks budget and class sizes

New high school bell schedule for 2024-25

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles School District is in the process of reducing staff and trimming costs as it seeks to cut $5 million in expenses to meet its 2023-2024 budget.

“For the last few weeks, we’ve been working with our association leaders around budget reductions and we are nearly there,” Superintendent Marty Brewer told the board at its May 25 meeting.

The process of assessing and examining every dollar the school district spends would make it stronger in the long run, he said.

“We can always create a narrative of a ‘can’t do’ attitude, but we can do it. We’ve done it before, we will do it again,” Brewer said. “Port Angeles is a very resilient community and this district has faced more than its share of budget challenges over the last several decades.”

Board member Katy Marks said she had heard from a number of constituents concerned the budget cuts would lead to larger class sizes that would hurt student learning.

She asked if it would be possible for the district to provide information in a newsletter or similar format referencing studies that suggested larger classes did not necessarily lead to poor outcomes.

Brewer said it was research conducted by John Hattie which suggested that class size alone did not determine achievement.

“If you just simply change class sizes to lower class sizes, you get the same result,” Brewer said. “You have to change class size and practice to see an impact.”

Board president Sarah Methner said it was important to point out that although classes in the fall will have more students, the number is limited by the collective bargaining agreement, a deal between the district and its teachers’ association.

“Even increasing class sizes, we’re still going to be at the bargaining amount,” Methner said. “We’re not going to go over that.”

Board member Mary Hebert said she agreed with Marks’ suggestion to communicate to families about class sizes in the fall.

“It’s important to get the word out so people don’t overthink that we’re going to have really large classes,” Hebert said.

Also coming in the fall will be a modified bell schedule intended as a transition from the current seven-class schedule to a six-class schedule planned for the 2024-2025 school year.

High school principal Tanner Zahrt told the board the change was in response to feedback from students, staff and parents and the district’s own data that indicated the seven-class day was having a negative impact on teaching and learning.

Enrollment and attendance were trending down and failure rates were trending up, he said, and staff and students were having “burnout” from the workload.

In addition, students were still struggling after returning to in-person classes following COVID, Zahrt said, and the seven-class schedule was a challenge for many.

“They’re just not ready, and they’re falling farther and farther behind,” he said.

Zahrt said a team of administrators, staff and department chairs looked at high-achieving schools around the state, most of which are moving away from a seven-period day, and dug into the research to develop a schedule that would best serve students and teachers.

There will still be seven class periods next year, but Wednesdays will be designated as “pause days,” when students will have time to catch up in their classes and teachers can meet with students individually.

In their remarks to the board during the public comment period, Teresa Hanson and her daughter, Ruth Pingley, a freshman at Port Angeles High School, criticized the subject matter of books in the school library and classrooms. Hanson said books her daughter was assigned included sexual content, violence, euthanasia, suicide, infanticide and other subjects that had no educational value and did not prepare students for the kind of critical thinking they needed for college.

“I would like to see more parents involved in the curriculum and pushing against content that is unethical,” Hanson said.

Aiden Jugueta, a student at Seaview Academy who also addressed the board, criticized its support of “woke indoctrination” that had created an environment that made school impossible for some students.

“I’m here because your decisions have been substantially detrimental not only to myself but to my colleagues and our parents and grandparents,” Jugueta said. “Students, myself and even some teachers have been forced to adhere to gender pronouns and identity. This is not only obviously wrong, but to force something upon us is a breach of our First Amendment rights, our freedom of religion and our freedom of speech. ”

Other board meeting news:

• Port Angeles High School seniors Jack Gladfelter and Saylah Commerton were the district’s students of the month.

• The next board meeting will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 8.

________

Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

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