ADVERTISEMENT

A good example of a crowded classroom is this American Government class at Patapsco High in Baltimore with 29 freshmen.

Matt Roth • New York Times,

Classes crowded across U.S. after massive teacher layoffs during recession

  • Article by: MOTOKO RICH
  • New York Times
  • December 21, 2013 - 8:01 PM

– The recession that began five years ago may have ended, but many of the nation’s school districts that laid off teachers and other employees to cut payrolls in leaner times have not yet replenished their ranks. Now, despite the recovery, many schools face unwieldy class sizes and a lack of specialists to help those students who struggle academically, are learning English as a second language or need extra emotional support.

Donna Guy’s fourth-grade class at Caln Elementary School here is too big — 30 pupils — for the room, so some of them sit halfway into a coat closet. Across town at Rainbow Elementary School, the 36 third-graders in Kristen Pleasanton’s gym class rotate on and off the bench during 25 minutes of seven-a-side soccer games, because she cannot supervise all of them playing at once.

And during social studies class at Scott Middle School, Keith Lilienfeld tries to keep control of a class of 25 students, 10 who need special education services, four who know little or no English and others who need more challenging work than he has time to give.

“I’m up there putting out fires like you wouldn’t believe,” said Lilienfeld, who used to have the help of two or three classroom aides. “There’s only one of me, and there’s a need for about five of me in there.”

Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Coatesville, a diminished steel town with 7,200 students, used to employ more than 600 teachers, psychologists, reading and math specialists, and other certified personnel. Since 2008, the district has cut close to one-fifth of that staff, according to Angelo Romaniello, the district’s assistant superintendent.

“We didn’t cut to the bone,” said Audra Ritter, a middle school special education teacher and president of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association. “We cut into the bone.”

School districts in other hard-hit states, including California, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas, are coping with similarly squeezed resources. Along with ­budget cuts, rising public school enrollment over the past five years has exacerbated the pinch.

The staffing gap has pushed elementary class sizes to 30 students and more in parts of California, where special state funds had been designated since the mid-1990s to keep classes in kindergarten through third grade capped at 20 students. In Dallas this year, the public school district has applied for more than 200 waivers from the state’s maximum class size of 22 students for kindergarten through fourth grade.

© 2014 Star Tribune