Parents should target anger at state, not schools


A storm not of their own making is brewing among parents, school administrators and board members in Farmington.

Parents in the Farmington School District are concerned that their second, third and fourth grade children will be placed in overcrowded classrooms. They want to know how many students will be in each class, but the school district is wary of predicting enrollment because the exact number of students in each grade isn’t secure until the first day of school. Meanwhile, school board members are feeling the heat from both sides.

Parents, administrators and board members need to remember that Farmington’s problem with overcrowding isn’t the fault of the schools. It’s the fault of the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Since 2003, when the state took over education funding, the amount the state dedicated to education has dropped an inflation-adjusted 14 percent. In addition, the state is delaying payments to schools to curb its own budget problems, forcing districts to take out short-term loans or draw down their own reserves.

The bottom line in this financial fiasco is simple: The state cuts money to schools, schools adjust by cutting staff, fewer staff members puts more students in each classroom, parents get upset because classrooms are overcrowded.

A report in Thursday’s St. Paul Pioneer Press tells of parental suspicion over the district’s enrollment and accompanying staffing moves.

Tera Lee will have children in kindergarten, second and fourth grades this fall. She is among the parents who have asked to be informed about any overcrowded classrooms.

“I think that we have been pushing this issue, (but) they don’t want us to keep pushing them,” Lee told the newspaper. “They say the numbers will change too much in August. I just think they want to make their decisions without feeling pressure from parents.”

According to district policy, kindergarten, first and second grades classes should be 20 to 25 students. Third and fourth grade classes should be 25 to 28 students. And in fifth grade, classes should be 27 to 30 students.

The district won’t know exactly how many students will be in each school until the first day of classes. Since every child is guaranteed an education, every child is welcome whether registered or not. That’s why the district is wary of releasing hard numbers.

It’s easy to understand parents’ suspicion and the district’s reticence over enrollment numbers. But all parties have to remember the Farmington School District would keep class sizes lower than district requirements if it could hire enough teachers to do so. The fact that it can’t reflects poorly on our lawmakers, not our educators.