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Class Sizes at Montpelier High School

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by Ben Huffman

Many classes at Montpelier High School are smaller than the school’s own class size policy guidelines.

The school offers classes in a broad range of subjects. But declining student numbers have made compliance with the school’s class size policy impossible in many of these classes. And since teachers and other staff are the major school expense (some 75 percent), smaller class sizes are a primary driver of increased per-student costs.

The high school’s class size policy sets optimal and minimum average class size guidelines within different subject categories. A few categories are exempt.

In terms of these averages, all high school classes subject to the policy during the 2014 fall term were below the optimal size guideline, and the minimum size was met in just one category (English).

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The range of actual class sizes — not average sizes — for all classes at the high school last fall is illustrated in a graph with this article.

In addition, the table with this article shows that for the 103 classes to which the class size policy applied, 60 percent had fewer students than the minimum guidelines. And of the 92 classes to which the optimal size policy applied, 88 percent had fewer students than the guidelines.

At city-meeting a year ago voters rejected the Montpelier school district’s budget. In the wake of this, the Montpelier School Board charged a special committee with finding ways of maintaining educational goals while also better controlling school spending.

The special committee proposed that Montpelier seek to collaborate with U-32 in jointly offering selected classes to ninth through twelfth graders from both schools. The result intended would be larger class sizes while retaining a broad range of subjects offered, but with fewer teachers required and thereby a lower per-student cost.

The Montpelier School Board considered the idea, broadening it to include middle as well as high school classes. Three board members favored the idea; four opposed it. And then, rather than reject the idea outright, the board voted to table the matter.

So what now?

Should Montpelier school officials lower their high school class size policy guidance?

Or should Montpelier and U-32 try to collaborate — without leaders at either school having to sacrifice their approaches to giving their students the best high school education possible?

Ben Huffman lives in Montpelier.

MHS class size table

MHS class size graph

MHS U32 graph