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Will Salt Lake City shrink class sizes?

District wouldn’t need to raise taxes to make it happen.

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Counting the costs » Decreasing class size by two students, just in grades four through six, would cost the district $1.05 million.

At a glance

Median class sizes

In 2012-2013, median class sizes in Alpine School District were among the largest in the state.

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Smaller classes for those grades have long been one of the board’s top two priorities, along with expanding early childhood education, said member Heather Bennett.

"We just haven’t had any additional revenue to devote to it," she said.

But due to drops in the district’s debt service payments, officials expect to have an additional $6.8 million for next school year, Bennett said.

As a result, the board could choose to lower its tax rate — which would mean about $31 less a year per $100,000 of a home’s value for taxpayers. Or, members could use the extra dollars on priorities such as lowering class size, giving employees raises and/or adding more all-day kindergarten or preschool classes. The price tags would be the following:

» Extending full-day kindergarten to every kindergarten class in the district would cost about $1 million.

» Giving all district employees a 1 percent raise would cost about $1.6 million.

» Lowering class size by a single student in all grades across the district would cost about $2.25 million.

As the board begins preliminary work on a budget for next year, at least a few members have publicly expressed interest in targeting class sizes, including Bennett, Michael Clara and Rosemary Emery.

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Some at the state level have long been somewhat indifferent to the idea, saying it hasn’t been proven to make a difference. Others say class sizes would have to be reduced dramatically to improve education.

A landmark study conducted in Tennessee in the 1980s found that K-3 classes of 13 to 17 students outperformed classes of 22 to 26 students. Still, other research hasn’t been definitive.

But Uintah Elementary parent Jessica Guynn is adamant that smaller classes would be meaningful for students — including her daughter, who will be in fifth grade next year, and her son, who will be a fourth-grader.

Larger classes in the upper grades at Uintah inspired her to take action, and she’s been trying to rally other parents to the cause, contacting PTA presidents and school community council leaders throughout the district.

"I’m absolutely sure class size makes a huge difference," Guynn said, "in a teacher’s ability to nurture and encourage the children on an individual basis."

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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