Des Moines Schools Experiencing Overcrowded Class Sizes

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DES MOINES, Iowa –Des Moines Public Schools are experiencing overcrowded class sizes district-wide, with the worst being at Roosevelt High School.

DMPS Communications Director Phil Roeder said a large factor in these overcrowded classes has been an ongoing problem with the state underfunding public education for the last decade.

“There is only so much that can be done by a school district when we still have to serve the same number or more of students with fewer resources and that includes fewer teachers,” Roeder said.

According to the district’s 2019 budget, there are 20 fewer teachers this year compared to last year.

“There is a lot of positions that aren’t being filled. We, unfortunately, had to lay off people at the district for many years. A lot of people whether they are retiring, whether they resign to go somewhere else those positions are being held open,” Roeder said.

Roosevelt High School English Teacher Andy Sutton said her class sizes have 35 to 40 students, the largest she has seen in her 13-year career.

“It feels chaotic. A lot of students, a lot of talking, it’s really hard to move around because students are back to back and their backpacks are on the floor,” Sutton said.

Roosevelt High School Social Studies Teacher Michael Shaw said the large numbers are affecting students’ education.

“Just by the sheer numbers, the individual help that they are going to be able to receive is diminished from a classroom of 25 to a classroom of 35. It’s about a third less attention per kid. Even getting to know names at the beginning of the year,” Shaw said.

As of Wednesday, Roosevelt has seen an additional 126 students that were not anticipated this school year.

Class size averages for each of the high school’s include:

  • East High School: 22.72
  • Hoover High School: 18.44
  • Lincoln High School: 22.18
  • North High School: 24.14
  • Roosevelt High School: 27.62

Roeder said the numbers reflect a wide range of all classes.

“When you have some classes, for example, band is a class, band might have 150 people in it. You might have other classes that technically have only one or two students in it,” Roeder said.

Roeder said the district is working with school counselors to help switch students’ schedules around to help with the overcrowding.

“We have some students that will be able to take some of the classes that they are currently in online, so that will help to bring some of the numbers down as well,” Roeder said.

Des Moines Public Schools cut $24 million from its budget this year and estimates to cut another $24 million next year.

Roeder said one way the district saved money this year was ending its adult education program and using the money for its middle school students.

State legislators increased public education’s general funding by two percent, for a total of $78.6 million in new money. Roeder said, that isn’t enough.

“In a lot of ways, it is treading water. I mean if you see cost increase three percent of four percent than two percent is better than nothing but it also means you have a gap still to fill,” Roeder said.

Sutton and Shaw both agree having more teachers would help the larger classes at Roosevelt.

“I think having more teachers would be a benefit of that. Unfortunately, our legislature keeps cutting and cutting and cutting our budget and that means more cuts in the district and a lot of times that means more cuts with teachers,” Sutton said.

The DMPS School Board will vote Tuesday to add an item to the November ballot. If passed, voters will be able to vote on increasing the Physical Plant and Equipment Property Tax and lower other levies. It would not increase taxes, just change where the money is earmarked for.

If passed by voters, it will give the district $6.5 million to purchase new classroom technology for students.


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