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Walton High looks for money to hire teachers

5:22 PM, Sep 14, 2012   |    comments
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MARIETTA, Ga. -- Most parents have noticed there are more students in their kids' classes this year.  As school districts struggle to balance their budget, teacher layoffs have left more students in each room. 

But parents at one school have said, "enough." They're trying to do what the district can't.  Find more money to hire more teachers.  

This year, the Walton Facilities Foundation in Cobb county is focusing on class size. "Our job is to let parents know what the needs are and then give them opportunities to support the various needs," said Vonda Shoemaker, the foundation's president. 

According to a letter signed by Shoemaker and the school's principal, Judith McNeill, Walton High has lost 11 teachers in the past three years, cutting 55 class sections from its cirriculum.  That's boosted the average class size from 26 students, to 32.

"I think it gets to be an issue when you can't give as much one on one attention and the more students you have, the more difficult that gets. As a teacher you want to draw the kids in, make it a personal connection and it's harder to do that when you can't know them as personally," said teacher Amy Merlin. 

Walton High isn't alone. A reduction in workforce has affected every school in Cobb county. Teachers throughout the district are looking for creative ways to work through the challenges posed by larger class sizes. But McNeill also wants to make sure students are getting the one on one attention they need to reach their best.

The principal says it would cost $500 per student to hire all the teachers back.  That's more than a million dollars to cover salaries and benefits, such as vacation time, health coverage and retirement.  Even if the school doesn't make that goal, one or two new teachers are better than none. 

The issue has certainly touched a nerve.  In just a few months, the foundation has received more donations from parents and businesses than it normally does in an entire year.  And the number of donors willing to give $1,000 or more has jumped.  

It's enough right now, to pay overtime for five teachers to take on an extra class, better spreading the students out.   "We're hoping someday that it will get back to where we were a few years ago, but until that happens I think that parents appreciate the opportunity to be able to make contributions and have some say in what the sizes will be in their school rather than just being told this is the county budget so this is the way it has to be," said McNeill. 

The district has agreed to bill the foundation every month for any overtime and costs associated with the teacher's benefits, to allow them to do the extra work.  

Walton is a charter school, but the principal says her school doesn't get any special budget privileges.  She believes any school in the district could do the same. 

Families or businesses wishing to donate can mail a check to:  The Walton Facilities Foundation, Walton High School, 1590 Bill Murdock Road, Marietta, GA 30062, or click on this here to donate online.

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