Schools run jobs program for parapros

Tue, 09/09/2008 - 2:40pm
By: Letters to the ...

If you were to compare the demographics of North Fulton County with Fayette County you’d find that they are virtually the same: above average household income, low poverty levels, excellent students, and perhaps most importantly, parents who care about their children’s education.

Why is it, then, that North Fulton County students routinely trounce Fayette County students on average when it comes to SAT scores and college admissions? Our class sizes are the same, our teachers hold roughly the same percentage of advanced degrees, and the best and the brightest of both school systems take the same number of AP (advanced placement) courses.

Yet year after year, North Fulton County schools score 20, 30, sometimes as much as 40 points higher on average on individual SAT score components over Fayette County.

The answer is a difference in priorities regarding “discretionary spending.” In a nutshell, “discretionary spending” are items in a school budget that the state of Georgia will NOT assist counties in paying for. It is a small but important component of the school system budget.

The difference in priorities is startling: The AJC asked the superintendent of Fulton County why his schools far exceeded other similarly excellent schools, and his reply was direct and to the point: Fulton focuses like a laser on giving students all the help they possibly can to get into the better colleges. To do that, they spend a good portion of their discretionary spending subsidizing “Saturday SAT Prep Courses” for those wanting to improve their scores.

In stark contrast is Fayette County’s discretionary spending. The state of Georgia has a funding formula for elementary school paraprofessionals. The state will help fund roughly 40 positions, and if the county wants more than 40, they will need to fund them solely from their own taxes.

And fund them we do! Fayette schools fund, out of their taxpayers’ pockets, roughly 100 additional paraprofessional positions, for a total of about 140. Contrast that to Fulton County, which seems to do just fine with the state mandated minimum. Those one hundred or so extra positions directly impact the county’s ability to help graduating students with Saturday prep courses.

At one time, having that number of extra parapros made economic sense. Back in the “bad old days,” 10 or so years ago, class sizes in the state of Georgia were embarrassingly large, and teachers could use the extra help in the class. Class sizes routinely averaged 20 to 25 students.

However, the governor and the state legislature have worked to reduce class sizes, particularly elementary class sizes, to manageable levels in the past decade: 15 to 18 students is now the norm.

Kindergarten and first-grade classes in Fayette have seen especially sharp drop-offs in enrollment in the past two years, and the trend towards fewer students will not stop, despite denials from Dr. DeCotis.

One major reason is that Peachtree City is now “built out.” There are no more major subdivisions to be built in Peachtree City, no large numbers of upwardly mobile younger families moving in to keep our school systems fully stocked with young children.

The average age of adults in households with children in Georgia is 33; here in Fayette County the average is much higher, 39 (and a whopping 41 in Brooks). People move here, they like it here so they stay put, but statistically there aren’t a whole lot of women on average having babies after age 34 (which would put their kids in school five to six years later).

What does this mean? Kindergarten and first-grade class sizes have plummeted to around 12 to 13 students ... BUT they still retain a full-time parapro in each classroom, meaning there can be as few as six students for every adult in a classroom. Some PRESCHOOLS don’t have ratios that good, and preschoolers arguably require more adult assistance and supervision than first graders.

Fayette County is keeping a large cohort of paraprofessionals employed in the school system even though the economic justification for those positions is no longer there.

Just this week, the Braelinn PTO sent out a heart-tugging missive to parents designed to rally support behind a tax increase to continue keeping these parapros fully employed.

I hope those Braelinn parents realize that years from now, when their students are forced to go to community college rather than a larger state university, or if their child has to settle for an in-state school when with just a little more county assistance they could have attended an Ivy League school, it was because they opted to support this school board and their skewed priorities.

Fulton County has it exactly right: focus on the student’s success. Period. Here in Fayette County, our once-proud education system has morphed into little more than a county jobs program.

Bob Jensen

Peachtree City, Ga.

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Submitted by fayetteparent on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 7:31pm.

Mr. Jenson,
If you think our Kindergarten and 1st grades have only 12-13 students then you are living in a dream world. You should check your facts first. Point number two... 40 points on the SAT is not all that stands between community college and Ivy League. Point number three... both of my children were born after I turned 34!

Submitted by bowser on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 6:52pm.

Sir, it's fine to make your case for shifting priorities in the school system to improve SAT results (although your logic in this case is obtuse to say the least).

But there's really no call to publicly demean a group of low-paid, direct-contact school workers as beneficiaries of a "jobs program." On the front page, no less. That'll really have them motivated tomorrow morning.

Golden rule, dude.

Submitted by UrKidding on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 6:11pm.

Hey Bob where did you get your numbers as Neil posted some as well.

Our current seniors scored second in the recent SAT results (they were tied with Cherokee County). But when you consider over 79 percent of our kids took the test versus 69 percent in Fulton, 61 percent in Cherokee and 47 percent in Coweta (based on the number of SAT takers over the FY 2007 Grade 11 population), you get a sense of how much our kids really achieved.

Submitted by Jaxxiesgirl on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 4:36pm.

The information about class sizes is extremely inaccurate, especially concerning kindergarten. I have 21 students in my kindergarten class this year which is one over the state mandate. However, mandates are flexible. At best, I have had 17 to 18 students but I have NEVER had 12-13 students in a class ever during my teaching career. I have friends who teach kindergarten in other schools and they too are used to averaging 17-18 students......never 12-13. Parapros are extremely essential in kindergarten because of the immaturity level and the fact that we do small group instruction. The parapro is rotating out with the teacher teaching small groups. You spend a day in a kindergarten class ALONE with 21 five and six year old children and then tell me you think our parapros are not needed.

Submitted by UrKidding on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 2:43pm.

Fulton County has it right? You've only touched on one aspect of college entry the SAT. Colleges are interest in more than just SAT's these days. What about students GPA's, community involvement, sports, clubs and other activities. To point out only SAT’s to put down a group of individuals that do a job for the reward of helping a student because it can’t be the pay! Have you checked on what a parapro makes per year? What source are you quoting when stating Fayette County students aren’t getting into colleges and universities? How can you even attempt to know how many students get into an Ivy League school based on SAT scores alone.

"Fulton County has it exactly right: focus on the student’s success. Period. Here in Fayette County, our once-proud education system has morphed into little more than a county jobs program."

These positions are directly “focused on the student’s success” at a young age so they don’t fall behind and are able to succeed in middle school and high school. I also agree with g8trgrl, who said PTC is built out? I say THANK YOU to all of the parapros that have worked in my kids classrooms.

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Submitted by NUK_1 on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 7:29pm.

Fulton County has it right? You've only touched on one aspect of college entry the SAT. Colleges are interest in more than just SAT's these days.

as opposed to which days? Colleges have never been interested 100% solely on SAT scores alone and that's nothing new now or 30 years ago. SAT have always been one of the major factors to admission into the very best schools and will continue to be so. Everyone brags about SMHS and McIntosh SAT scores until the fact that some schools in Fulton Co have higher scores, then it's suddenly "hey, SAT scores aren't that big of a deal!"

Studies have shown that parapro's are not that big of a factor in a child's success. There's no doubt they are nice for the teachers to have, but there are schools succeeding quite well without loads of them. Besides, I am not sure that the parapro's are the first place that needs to be cut after SPLOST fails yet again. I think higher up the food chain would be a starting point and the people who are actually in a classroom would be towards the end of the cost-cutting.

Looking at how other school systems with the same budgetary issues as Fayette manage their schools to get the highest results is an excellent comparison. I know people tend to want to gag when it's mentioned that Fulton County on average has higher test scores than Fayette, but rather than having a spaz about Fulton, look at how they do it.

Submitted by g8trgrl on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 5:17am.

If PTC is built out, could you send a memo to John Weiland & tell him there is no room for his 344 houses to overcrowd the schools?

Could you also site some specific schools in Fayette County with these low classroom numbers? My school does not have such low numbers, maybe you could talk to the principal too & ask her to not accept so many first graders to keep our #'s down!

You have clearly not been in an elementary school in a while.

Submitted by Linda Wheatley on Tue, 09/09/2008 - 7:47pm.

Mr. Jensen,
In my children's school, the kindergarten and first grade class size is always around 20. Last year, the first grade classes had 21 and 22 students each. I don't know where you think there are classes with 12 or 13 students. If that were the case, the class would be dissolved and those 12-13 students would be redistributed to the other teachers on the grade.
The time to really intervene and give students a lot of support and attention is the early years when you are laying the foundation and teaching them the basics of reading, writing, and math. You hear complaints all the time about children being promoted without having a strong foundation. Well, if you take the parapros out of the lower grades, the students don't get as much individual attention and that is what many students really need in the early years.
The Saturday prep school sounds like a good idea and why can't that be a private program/decision for families?...Frankly, I am concerned about the well-being of all students including those who aren't college bound as well as the younger students who need support on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday???
Another overlooked fact is that the parapros do much more than support students in the classroom. They cover classrooms for meetings, staff development, and contribute to the safety of the students by supervising during arrival, lunch, and dismissal. The principals would have to "hire" substitutes if there were no parapros to handle all of these duties.
Shame on you Mr. Jensen for downgrading the hard-working, underpaid, and underappreciated paraprofessionals of the Fayette County School System. They are actually one of the biggest bargains in our budget!
Thank you parapros for your dedication and sacrifice!!!

Submitted by Linda Wheatley on Wed, 09/10/2008 - 2:55pm.

I think you just have an ax to grind if that is the case. Also, if that is the case-no wonder she didn't win and thank God she didn't win!

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