District offers rationale for class size position

District offers rationale for class size position

Michele Ellson

Newly released documents lay out school district administrators’ rationale for insisting that the district retain the right to keep class sizes in kindergarten through third grade remain at 25 teachers per student.

Documents newly posted to the district’s website say the cost of dropping K-3 classes to 20 students per teacher could be up to $5 million per year and that reducing class sizes next year could force the district to pull 181 students from their home schools and place them elsewhere.

A tentative agreement rejected by teachers on March 30 would have allowed the district to continue placing up to 25 students in each K-3 class, a number that could increase to 30 if a severe fiscal emergency were declared by the Board of Education. The teachers union had proposed retaining K-3 class sizes of up to 25 students for the next three years, with the classes reduced to a maximum of 20 students after that.

A flyer handed out by teachers who picketed in front of schools Tuesday that listed reasons teachers voted against the tentative agreement said smaller class sizes are better for students.

District administrators told the state late last year that they and the teachers had reached an impasse over class size, sending the matter into mediation. The school board voted on April 10 to continue to a fact-finding process after teachers rejected the agreement.

Union leadership and teachers have said Superintendent Kirsten Vital told them at the beginning of this school year that she hoped to ultimately lower K-3 class sizes back to 20 students. Vital said she told teachers that she had hoped to shrink those classes gradually, but that the district can’t do it now.

“We need flexibility in contract language because we do not know if (class size reduction) will go away, what will happen with weighted student formula and the state budget,” Vital said, adding that some K-3 classes have fewer than 25 students.

Governor Jerry Brown is proposing a new funding formula that would eliminate many categorical funds that are tied to specific programs in favor of a formula that would give each district a set amount of funding that would be supplemented based on the number of low-income and English language learner students it serves.

Five days before the union offered its February 27 class size proposal, district administrators determined that lowering the class sizes would cost the district an additional $897,023 per year, a cost that could top $5 million if state class size reduction funding is cut as Brown proposes.

The district has said that the Measure A parcel tax funds class sizes of 25 students per teacher and that between 13-14 percent of the measure’s funds go toward that purpose.

“Without state funding, it will be very difficult to maintain 25 to 1, much less 20 to 1,” a second document analyzing diversions district officials said would be created by lower class sizes said.

That document, which wasn’t dated, showed 48 of Edison Elementary’s 454 students diverted to other schools and 32 from Bay Farm if K-3 class sizes were reduced to 20 students per teacher next year. As many as 30 students could be diverted from Franklin Elementary, the document showed, and up to 33 students from Otis – 20 of them incoming kindergartners.

Neither Earhart nor Paden would lose students under the scenario, and Haight, Lum and Otis would both add classes and lose students, the document showed.

Student Services Director Kirsten Zazo said that returning K-3 class sizes to 20 students per teacher in three years, as the union had requested, would result in some student diversions but that there was no way to do that analysis now because enrollment is always changing.

Alameda Education Association president Gray Harris questioned the diversion numbers, saying she believes they include classes of less than 20 that might be kept at some schools.

“You wouldn’t divert 19 kids to another school,” Harris said.

She said she didn’t have any comment on the budget figures.

The teachers union signed an agreement in 2010 that allowed district administrators to temporarily raise K-3 class sizes in order to cope with slashed state funding, something that occurred in the 2010-2011 school year.

The fact finding panel will include a state mediator and representatives from the district and the union; it will issue a report that will be the basis of future negotiations on class size. If that process doesn’t produce a deal, the school board could attempt to impose the district’s final offer on class size. If teachers decide they don’t like the deal, they could go on strike.

Administrators and representatives from the teachers union continue to negotiate other issues, including a school calendar and salaries. The teachers’ current contract is set to expire June 30.

RELATED DOCUMENTS

UPDATED 12:26 p.m. Thursday, April 19: School district officials have submitted an updated version of the redirect analysis to correct typos in the original. The corrected document is below.

Comments

Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Thu, Apr 19, 2012

I believe that the rationale for having a 20:1 ratio in the early grades was to make sure that students received direct instruction in basic skills -especially reading. A 20:1 ratio does not make a teacher's job easier, but it does allow her or him to provide more individualized, direct intruction to each student.

As teachers we often feel that the fight for our students is our fight. We want them to be successful and we know that if they don't learn how to read in the early grades, it will take
a great amount of time and $ to remediate them in the upper grades (where class size jumps to 32 or more).

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