About a half-dozen Chatham residents appeared at the Monday night Board of Education meeting to ask the board once again to hire an additional first grade teacher at .
Heather Turnbull, of Dale Drive in Chatham Township, spoke on behalf of those parents gathered and reiterated evidence that 20 students in a first grade class is "optimal" for early education and development.
With 113 first grade students currently registered at Southern Boulevard School for the fall, the number of students per classroom will be 22 or 23.
"The numbers remain essentially the same [from the last meeting," Turnbull said, with 113 registered students. "We're just please asking you to find a way to bring us that first grade teacher in the next year."
Dr. Michael LaSusa, the assistant superintendent, said the registration numbers continue to fluctuate. On Thursday, he said, they were down to 110 students in first grade; on Friday, enrollment rose to 113.
"I think that you'd be hardpressed to find an educator who doesn't support smaller class sizes, especially at the primary level," LaSusa said. "At the same time, we're looking at what the numbers have been historically. ... I think as a whole the [Personnel Committee] felt that we would continue to monitor how the enrollment went ... on a daily or weekly basis, but not yet commit to hiring a new teacher at this point."
LaSusa said that although the district has not advertised for a vacant first grade teaching position, they have already received numerous résumés from interested and qualified candidates. Rich Connors, the chairman of the personnel committee, said a classroom was available and the materials for that classroom were, for the most part, either available or could be easily purchased.
The 2011-12 budget, however, did not account for an additional first grade teacher at Southern Boulevard School and the district has already approved an additional fourth grade teacher at Lafayette Avenue School that was not accounted for in the budget.
Connors said that the personnel committee and LaSusa were monitoring the enrollment daily. "If the administration says that we need it, then we're going to do it," he said.
Turnbull said the petition contained the signatures of 70 families who support an additional first grade teacher at Southern Boulevard School. Copies of the petition were not available and Patch has not authenticated the names or the amount of signatures on the petition.
"We are victims of our own success," Turnbull said. "Young families move here with their young kids" so their children can attend Chatham schools, she said, and "I think the parent community would be disappointed to learn that the new norm is now ... 22, 23, 24 [students in a class]," she said.
The district's goal in this matter, Connors said, is to keep enrollment as close to 20 students per classroom as possible, with no more than 25 students in a classroom. "We're getting close to that critical number, which is why we're looking at it at a daily basis," Connors said.
At the present time, however, Connors said the enrollment numbers are not "compelling" enough to hire another teacher, especially when enrollment is still changing and when a teacher can be hired with relative ease and out of "a stack of résumés" closer to the start of school, if required.
The teaching position would be unfunded, so "we would have to find the money from another account or another source," Connors said. "The administration has told us that if need be, we can find the money."
Enrollment at Southern Boulevard continues to fluctuate, with seven students dropping out since the June 28 meeting and four more students coming in.
"We hear the parents loud and clear," Connors said.
Editor's note: A prior version of this story contained an error in Rich Connor's assessment of whether the enrollment numbers were compellling enough to hire another teacher. Chatham Patch apologizes to our readers for the error and has corrected it.