AMERICAN FORK — Dozens of parents showed up to Alpine School Board meeting Tuesday night to decry large class sizes. And while the Alpine School Board and administration would agree reducing class sizes is a positive route, the debate is over how to fund it.

Group spokeswoman Margie Holt, PTA president at Rocky Mountain Elementary School, outlined a proposal to the board. It calls for spending $9.36 million to hire four teachers at a beginning salary for each of the 39 elementary schools in the district. This would reduce the teacher-to-student ratio.

"If we don't have specific targets and long-term plans to reduce class size, it will never be a reality," Holt said.

"We are asking that you make class size your number one budget priority," she said. "Think twice and three times about budget line items that may not be an absolute need. Ask yourselves, 'Can this money be reallocated toward our main goal of lowering class sizes?"'

Holt and other PTA members presented a petition with approximately 50 signatures in support of class-size reduction. Holt said there were PTA members representing about 12 schools and totalling possibly 50 people at the meeting.

Addressing the PTA's concerns, Alpine District superintendent Vernon Henshaw said it's a priority of the board to lay out a plan and "chip away" at large classes.

"We did prioritize dollars in this year's budget to begin," Henshaw said. "It's a start."

He added, "We want to continue to work with you as we go forward and try to meet this challenge as best we can."

The district has slated $500,000 for the upcoming school year for hiring more teacher aides. The district's budget for the 2007-08 school year was $321 million. The district aims to have its 2008-09 budget wrapped up in June.

However, Holt says she doesn't believe having more teacher aides will help. "Research shows teacher aides statistically don't make a difference as far as academic outcome," she said. "If we're not going to get higher performance, why throw the money into an ineffective tactic?"

Alpine District spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said it depends on how the aide is put to work. If the employee is simply decorating bulletin boards or helping at recess, it may not help a lot. But she said the aides are going to be filling in for the teacher while she does small-group work or doing one-on-one reading skills with students. "The aides will be utilized efficiently," Bromley said. "It will help the adult-to-student ratio in the classroom."

District business administrator Rob Smith said the Alpine District received $9.1 million last school year from the state for class-size reduction and also used $3.6 million from the voted leeway. Generally, this funding was used for hiring teachers to reduce class sizes. Similar funding is outlined in the 2008-2009 budget, as well as spending the $500,000 for teacher aids. aides.

District officials say the size of the class differs classes differ by school and grade.

PTA members Tuesday night said elementary classes can range anywhere from up to 25 or 30 students.

Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, attended Tuesday's board meeting and says he supports working on reducing class sizes. "It needs to be the top priority of the Legislature, and I intend to make it that," he said.

State PTA education commissioner Holly Langton also came out to show her support for reducing class sizes. "It needs to become a reality," she said.

E-mail: [email protected]