ACPS Budget Call to Action
Parent Advocacy on Class Sizes and School Psychologist Services
Dear Brooks Community,
As discussed at Monday’s PTA meeting, ACPS has issued its Proposed FY 2024 Combined Funds Budget, available here. Public comments will be considered this Thursday, January 19, 2023 at a public hearing. Below are the key issues for Brooks, and how you can make your voice heard.
Of concern to many Brooks’ parents:
- The proposed budget does NOT provide for 3 homeroom teachers for grades 3 and 5 in the upcoming school year, as it does for other grades. Instead, it provides for 2 homeroom teachers per grade, which means class sizes of more than 26 students if enrollment remains the same next school year.
- ACPS allocates homeroom teachers based on projected enrollment numbers.
- ACPS is projecting a drop in enrollment next school year for rising 3rd and 5th graders.
- The budget does not explain the basis for assuming the drop in enrollment in these grades, or why a similar drop is not assumed for our rising 4th graders.
- If current enrollment numbers stay the same, there will be more than 26 students in each 3rd grade and 5th grade homeroom class next year.
- NOTE: Once class sizes hit capacity, new students will be reassigned to another nearby local elementary school unless the family is active duty military or qualifies for an exception to the maximum capacity policy.
- The budget does NOT provide for a full time psychologist for our children, resulting in Brooks being one of only three ACPS elementary schools without a full-time psychologist on staff.(Ms. Spencer is assigned to Brooks on a part-time basis. She is also assigned to another ACPS site).
Brooks Community Call to Action
At the January 6 PTA meeting, we discussed comments that the PTA’s EC will provide to the School Board on the community’s behalf. But for our voices to be heard and effective, we need direct advocacy from parents who believe Brooks should be afforded two additional homeroom teachers and a full-time psychologist on staff. ACPS and the school board need to see that this issue is important to Brooks parents in order to get them to revise the proposed budget.
What You Can Do — THIS WEEK
- Attend the public hearing in person or by Zoom: The January 19 school board meeting will begin at 6:30pm at 1340 Braddock Place but you may also attend by Zoom. Public comments are typically heard within the first 30 minutes of the meeting, so you do not need to attend the entire meeting. No need to do anything other than be present to show your support (in Brooks shirts or colors if possible). Please also join us after the hearing at Lena’s on Braddock Road to discuss what we heard and celebrate our togetherness as a Brooks Community.
- Speak at the hearing in person or by Zoom: Brooks PTA is seeking two or more parents willing to provide verbal remarks on how class sizes or Ms. Spencer’s part-time staffing at Brooks has affected their children. You are only given 3 minutes to speak. We can help with talking points if needed and you will be supported by other Brooks parents in the audience. Speakers need to pre-register by 12:00pm on January 18 by filling out this form.
- Submit written public comments: Submit written feedback on the budget to the School Board using this form here. Select “In Writing” in the middle of the page. Feel free to copy and paste our sample comments on the class size and school psychologist issues (see below) or personalize them if you feel comfortable.
- [Comments on other issues (safety, superintendent search, etc) may be submitted here.]
- Send your Feedback to the School Board and Superintendent directly using the School Board Contact Form.
- Send your Feedback to the PTA by Tuesday, January 17:
- Complete this one minute survey so your feedback can inform our public comments.
Sample Comments on Class Sizes
The proposed budget will result in classroom sizes in grades 3 and 5 at Naomi Brooks that exceed the 26 student capacity limit for these grades. The proposed Brooks staffing budget should be changed to assign two additional homeroom teachers to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary, so that Brooks has three homeroom teachers at each grade level in FY’24.
The ACPS budget allots only two homeroom teachers for grades 3 and 5, relying on projections that assume enrollment in these grades will be lower than it has been for the last two years. This assumption is contingent on several current students not returning next year. It also requires that the capacity transfers students out of Brooks, who were not permitted to enroll at Brooks because their grades were full, will not be NOT enrolling in their neighborhood school in the next school year.
For FY’23, ACPS allotted only two homeroom teachers to each of grades 3, 4, and 5. By the fall of 2023, these grades were either at or over capacity, and new students who should have been able to attend Brooks were turned away and forced to attend schools outside their neighborhood. In the fall, Brooks parents engaged with several board members and ACPS staff members about the negative impact of these large class sizes on our students and teachers. ACPS hired instructional aides for Brooks, with the intention of hiring additional teachers next year. But that process understandably took several months, and has not been successful as one of the aides has stopped coming to work. The students are in the same position as they were before and many are frustrated and feel the classrooms are too noisy and crowded for them to concentrate. With so many students in the room, it is difficult for all students to get the individual help they need.
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The Brooks parent community agrees with and strongly supports the school board’s direction that ACPS prioritize small classroom sizes in this year’s budgeting process. ACPS capacity limits exist to ensure our teachers can provide individualized and differentiated instruction to all students, so that they all may have opportunity to learn and thrive. The class size limits recognize that teachers are not able to provide the same level of individualized support as class sizes grow beyond them.
Unfortunately, the ‘FY24 budget sets Brooks up to have class sizes that exceed the prescribed capacity limits. The budget projects Brooks’ classroom sizes for grades 3 and 5 will be at 51 students – just under the 52 student maximum capacity for two teachers – and assigns two homeroom teaching positions to each grade. But Brooks currently has more than 52 students enrolled in each of these grades. The projections also fail to account for the students that were turned away as capacity transfers out of Brooks this school year, and fail to leave space for the categories of new or returning students that must be allowed to enroll at Brooks even if the grade is at capacity. The result is that class sizes in grades 3 and 5 will exceed the 26 student capacity limit next year.
Fortunately, we are early enough in the budgeting process that the school board and ACPS can address the problem and ensure that in FY’24, students in grades 3 and 5 will have class sizes within the ratio. We urge you to allot two additional homeroom teachers to Brooks so that students currently enrolled in grades 3 and 5 may return knowing their class sizes will be within ACPS capacity limits. Recent, historical enrollment data supports that Brooks will need three homeroom teachers in each grade level in FY’24 for classroom sizes to be within the ratios set by the school board and in ACPS policy.
Sample Comments on Psychologist Position
I write to urge ACPS and the school board to allot a full-time psychologist staff position to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary. Brooks is one of just three elementary schools that does not have a full-time psychologist on staff. Instead, our wonderful and very dedicated school psychologist is assigned to Brooks just three days a week, and works at other sites two days a week. A part-time psychologist position is grossly inadequate for Brooks students given the high demand for her services. It is also inequitable that Brooks students have more limited access to psychology services because of the part-time assignment.
Elementary school psychologists serve an important role, including at Brooks. Our psychologist provides counseling services to students, is involved in setting and implementing IEP and 504 plans, conducts student assessments for special education services eligibility, trains staff, consults with teachers and parents about behavior issues and does so much more. Unfortunately, the number of students our psychologist can support, and the degree to which she is available, is limited because she is not at Brooks five days a week.
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While it is encouraging to see the FY’24 budget increase the position from 0.6 to 0.8, it is still a part-time position, and our students need and deserve a full-time psychologist on staff. Crisis intervention, special education assessments and counseling services to more than 300 students cannot be provided on a part-time basis, and our psychologist’s special skills need to be available to students every day of the week. Brooks needs to have a full-time psychologist on staff, just like the other elementary schools in the district.