POULSBO — There are some red flags going up in at least a few classrooms in the North Kitsap School District.
Class sizes in at least three schools are exceeding the maximum limit allowed by the collective bargaining agreement between the district and North Kitsap Education Association.
"Class sizes are quite large in many places," said Chris Fraser, the president of the North Kitsap Education Association.
District administrators said they could not immediately provide enrollment or class size numbers for the first three days of school. The district had expected 5,916 students districtwide — 116 fewer students than in 2012-13.
"It could be until next week," district spokeswoman Jenn Markaryan said of this year’s enrollment numbers. She added that administrators are assisting with classes that are overcrowded, but didn’t provide specifics.
Fraser provided examples of schools with large class sizes. Poulsbo Middle School, she said, is "significantly over" the projected enrollment. As of Friday, about 78 percent of class sizes exceed the maximum allowed per the bargaining agreement. That includes 41 percent of classes with more than 32 students in them.
Vinland Elementary, too, has large class sizes. Those classes include two fifth-grade classes with 31 students, a second-grade class with 31 students, and another second-grade class with 30 students.
At Wolfle Elementary, two fifth-grade classes have 31 students. But Wolfle’s kindergarten and first-grade class sizes are low, thanks to $100,000 in funding which requires class sizes of 20 students or less.
"To paint a picture: Across our elementary schools we have classes that are 28-plus," Fraser said.
Per the bargaining agreement, a teacher with a class exceeding maximum size is expected to give immediate written notice to the school’s principal. The district has 21 days to take action, which can include hiring a new teacher, transferring students to other buildings, re-assigning students to other teachers, or transferring teachers.
"It's critical for the district to have reasonable class sizes from the first day," Fraser said.
When changes to classes are made, it can have adverse affects, Fraser said. A lot happens in the first week of school — students get into routine and build relationships, for example. Students having to change classes or schools will essentially have another first day of school, Fraser said.
The district has known "for some time" that some schools will have a higher enrollment than originally projected, Fraser said.
The bargaining agreement allows kindergarten and first-grade classes to have a maximum of 25 students each; second- and third-grade, 26; fourth- and fifth-grade, 27; sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade, 30; grades 9-12, 32. If a class is a split-grade level, it must have two fewer than the maximum. Some classes, such as physical education, can have higher student enrollment.
District Superintendent Patty Page issued a letter to parents regarding enrollment:
Good Morning NK Community,
We are looking forward to a great year in the North Kitsap School District. Final preparations are underway throughout the district and we look forward to welcoming all of our kids into our schools. As we approach the first day of school, I wanted to take a few moments to update you on enrollment, class sizes, and staffing.
As of today, we are noticing some schools in the district that may appear to have higher enrollment than anticipated. This puts some of our class sizes at a number higher than we prefer. Many times, our enrollment in the weeks and days before school starts is quite different from the number of students who come through our doors when school starts.
I want to reassure you that we are carefully monitoring our enrollment numbers and class sizes at each school daily. If our enrollment stays high, we have a plan in place to make the necessary adjustments. We have an extremely talented pool of applicants to draw from, and we are ready to add teachers, if needed. At the secondary level, we have posted some anticipated positions in order to expedite the hiring process. I am confident that if we find we are in a position to increase staffing, we will be able to do that very quickly.
Please contact me, or your Principal, if you have any questions.
Patty Page, Superintendent
Fraser said the association is "very concerned" about current levels of staffing and is in discussions with district administrators.