PICKENS COUNTY – With talks swirling about eliminating aspects of statewide regulations on student-teacher ratio in individual school districts, local leaders are weighing in.
The topic stems from comments made by S.C. State Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais indicating a need for more flexibility in regards to staffing requirements.
Zais has since backed off his pursuit of amending the current regulations.
“The department of education recently recommended amendments to (the) regulation in order to extend the flexibility already provided to school districts by the General Assembly,” said Zais in a release. “Some have stated that suspending some staffing requirements would lead to packed classrooms. This misinformation is motivated simply by pure, partisan politics.”
Currently, the student-to-teacher ratio is 20:1 in prekindergarten, 35:1 in all eighth grade courses, 30:1 in fifth grade math and 35:1 in all high school courses other than physical education. Those caps would have been eliminated by Zais’ proposal.
“Local school leaders understand local requirements,” Zais said. “They are better equipped to make staffing decisions than well-meaning officials in Columbia.”
State officials say because flexibility exists under current law, the department said it did not see a need to pursue changes to the regulation.
Pickens County School Board Trustee Alex Saitta said the real problem is much closer to home.
“There are a lot of things proposed in Columbia that never make it out of committee. I suspect this is another one,” Saitta said. “The issue that has to do with the here and now is the movement in the district administration and on the school board to raise the district’s student-teacher ratio.”
Saitta said in April, Judy Edwards tried to raise the student-teacher ratio from 21.5 to 22.5, and that was turned back by only one vote.
“I suspect they’ll be back pushing that point again next year,” he said.
Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens) said increasing classroom sizes is not a smart move.
“It would have a significant impact,” Martin said of raising the student-teacher ratio. “I believe you would see those ratios creep up to the point that it would really be a difficult issue for the school districts on an ongoing basis because of the sheer volume of students in a classroom.”
Saitta said bigger classrooms will result in less one-on-one time.
“With more students you have in the classroom, the less individual time a student will have,” Saitta said. “It is simple math. Many of the students at-risk of falling off the graduation path are from broken families where they don’t get individual time at home. They need more individual attention in the classroom, not less, if we are going to effectively teach them. “
Martin said the state board of education has not acted on the regulation.
“We have given the state school districts flexibility over the last couple of years,” Martin said. “It is not the Legislature’s intention to eliminate those ratios.”