TEUTOPOLIS — Unit 50 school district officials spurned Thursday a proposal to add a fourth first grade teacher at Teutopolis Grade School, but agreed instead to split the difference and create a part-time teaching position.
Board of Education members had been debating whether class sizes for the incoming first-graders were going to be too large to provide effective instruction, especially for slower learners. Superintendent Bill Fritcher said at Thursday's special meeting that the three first grade sections will contain 25 students each. A fourth full-time teacher would have enabled class sizes to drop below 20, a number many parents feel is more optimal for that age group.
Parents and some teachers have been urging the board for months to consider adding a fourth first grade section. Teacher Karen Buhnerkempe cited a University of Tennessee study that showed a correlation between class size and effective learning.
"As a teacher, I am concerned about the long-term impact of large class sizes," Buhnerkempe said. But the veteran teacher added that a part-time teacher could enable struggling students to receive more individualized instruction, especially in the core subjects of reading and math.
Fritcher said the new position would create more scheduling headaches for grade school Principal Angie Sheehan. But the superintendent said he was confident Sheehan could revamp the schedule to accommodate the part-time position.
"I think Mrs. Sheehan can make the half-time position work," he said.
Board member Carl Repking urged his colleagues to fund a full-time position, despite an education fund deficit of more than $100,000 for the upcoming school year.
"I think our first-graders need it," Repking said. "We need to bite the bullet and add a section."
Fritcher said a beginning teacher would earn about $40,000 a year with benefits, though he noted that Teutopolis typically sought the best teachers available no matter how much experience they had.
Repking couldn't, however, convince the board that the fourth section was a good idea. Only he and Dan Burke voted for the full-time position.
However, the board did vote 6-1 to hire a half-time teacher for the upcoming school year, with Jim Buhnerkempe — husband of the aforementioned Karen — voting against funding even a part-time position.
"I think from a cost-benefit analysis, it's not a good idea," Buhnerkempe said. "The three teachers we have now do a great job. To introduce a less-experienced teacher into the mix is, to me, a big problem."
Current first-grade teachers Karen Buhnerkempe, Julie Probst and Laurie Drees have more than 70 years combined teaching experience.
Board President Marty Siemer said the part-time hire was a good way to go.
"It strikes the right balance between education and finance," Siemer said.
In other action Thursday, the board agreed to accept a bid from Swingler Construction for security work at the high school at a cost of $72,446. The board tabled a bid to refurbish the school district's track, however, because of a question about how the project would be funded.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or firstname.lastname@example.org.