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Class sizes would not exceed 30 under Manchester school plan

MANCHESTER - A key school board subcommittee Tuesday approved a policy that sets a maximum enrollment in high school classes at 30 students and a minimum enrollment of 15.

Should a class exceed 30 students, another section would have to be added, and if fewer than 15 students signed up for a class, it would be cancelled.

The Curriculum and Instruction Committee approved the policy 3-1. The vote sends the policy to the Coordination Committee.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan has proposed the change as a way to ensure that classes aren't too crowded, while also weeding out more obscure classes that some board members have labeled as "boutique."

The proposal comes as the towns of Hooksett and Candia have taken steps to remove their children from city high schools over large class sizes, which town representatives say violate their contract with the district.

Brennan said the policy may require additional staffing, but, more important, it would force school administrators to make hard decisions. "I believe we need to say 30 and hold to that and see what happens. I believe we will have the staffing if we're fortunate to get budget we requested," Brennan said, referring to his recently proposed budget of $160 million, which exceeds the tax cap.

School board member Art Beaudry said he was less optimistic that the aldermen would approve the budget, and that maybe the school board should wait until it has better sense of how much it has to spend. "If I knew that we would have the amount of teachers we'd need to keep us line with the policy, I'd pass it," he said. "Maybe we're putting the cart before the horse."

Brennan responded: "Your number one obligation is to create policies to provide for the number one education for our students. I think we say this is what we need in our school district, and if the money isn't forthcoming we'll have to address that."

Beaudry was the only committee member to vote against the policy, which, if passed, likely wouldn't have an effect until next fall.

Principals from Central, Memorial and West high schools also expressed reservations about the proposal on Tuesday.

"I'm trying to see the scenarios that this policy would have to bump up against," Memorial Principal Arthur Adamakos said. He pointed to a situation in which students might drop a course before it starts, bringing it below the minimum enrollment and depriving the remaining students of the chance to take the class.

On the other hand, Central Principal Ronald Mailhot said the policy would make clear the extent of staffing shortages. "This will reveal how many teachers we would need," he said.

The strongest push-back against the policy came from school board member John Avard, who is not a member of the curriculum committee but is on the committee that will next review the proposal.

His objection concerned the minimum enrollment requirement, which he said would disproportionately affect students at West, which has a smaller enrollment than the other high schools.

"If you're looking to get rid of boutique classes, I'm fine with that, but when it comes to Level 4 classes, to Advanced Placement classes, that's not appropriate," he said. "This is not equity across the district. I will never support a policy unless all our students get the same rights and opportunities as anywhere in the district."

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