BY MARTIN SEVCIK
One third of teachers at Carmel High School are teaching six instructional periods per day, one period more than their contract requires, in exchange for additional compensation, raising concerns over how to deal with large class sizes and increased student enrollment.
For the past decade, student enrollment has increased dramatically at CHS. This 2019-20 school year has seen an increase of more than 30 students from the year before, bringing total enrollment to 874, the highest it’s been in the past 20 years.
“Given the fact that this year’s freshman class is big, and given that next year’s freshman class is big, we’re going to go through a bit of a bump,” says CHS principal Jonathan Lyons. That bump has led to greater enrollment in certain courses, such as Integrated Math 1.
Principal Lyons explains that after students submit their course requests, administrative officials determine how many sections of each course need to be created to meet student demand. Sometimes, classes too large to be feasibly taught are created and ways to teach additional periods of that course need to be found.
“You can do one of two things,” Lyons says. “You can hire new teachers, or you can provide veteran teachers the option of adding another class at a compensated rate.”
If a teacher takes that additional class, known as an overage, the teacher’s pay is increased by 20 percent. This year, 17 teachers have taken on overages, an unusually high number. Many faculty see the cash incentive associated with the additional courses as the primary reason to take them on.
“I’ve always asked for it, and then when I’ve gotten it I’ve been very happy to have the extra money,” says Jillayne Ange, a history teacher who has taught additional classes for the past few years.
Not all teachers are as enthusiastic about overages.
Brian Handley is teaching a second Digital Music class this year due to increased interest in the course, teaching six periods for the first time in his career. Alongside other teachers, he finds that overages come with some major drawbacks.
“The thing that I notice more than anything is the lack of a second prep period during the day,” Handley says. “There’s just less time to get stuff done.”
This is a sentiment shared by other staff members.
“I work probably four hours every Sunday to make up for the hours I lose during the week,” says SuzanneMarden, who teaches AP French as an overage whenever there is sufficient interest. “You do get paid more, but I’m tired. I want the overage if the students want to be in AP.”
Other teachers agree that having a greater number of students creates a larger workload for them outside of class.
“If all I had to do was teach, I could do one through seven and be happy,” says teacher Marc Stafford, who cites the extra grading, planning and other associated work as the hardest part of an overage. “You have more to do and less time to do it.”
No teacher is ever required to take on overage, as most teachers are only contractually obligated to teach five periods. When ateacher is approached about an overage opportunity, the teacherhas to agree to take on the extra load.
Because of the stress many teachers experience when taking an extra classes, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of the overages system.
“I don’t think it benefits students to be on overages,” says Bill Schrier, a social studies teacher and the president of the Association of Carmel Teachers. “Students who are in smaller classes benefit, but students who are taught by exhausted teachers don’t benefit.”
One proposal is to hire new staff members as a way to alleviate stress from teachers.
“Someone teaching a normal load that could pick those [classes] up could provide even more benefit to the students,” Schrier says.
The principal agrees that hiring additional teachers could alleviate large class sizes, but mentions the costs associated with additional hires.
“When we hire a teacher, we have to make sure we can account for that teacher’s long-term viability,” Lyons says. “Do we have enough kids to fill classes for the teacher for the next 25 years?”
According to Lyons, overages cost around $18,000 to $22,000 per section for most teachers, and a new full-time hire who teaches five sections could be $85,000 to $135,000.
Everyone agrees that smaller class sizes are better for students, and the administration’s goal is always to ensure that class sizes stay small. The question for the future is through what means those small class sizes will be maintained in the coming years.