Friday, March 6, 2009

Class (Size) Warfare

I've been asked by a few people what's the story with class size reduction. The 2009-10 budget shows that we'll save $300,000 in class size reduction. Here's where the money comes from... and goes to...

The State of California sends funding to school districts in exchange for a commitment to keep class sizes for K-3 at ~21 students per teacher. That money does not completely offset the cost of the additional teachers needed to fit under the size limit, but it's a start.

In the past, if you didn't meet the threshold, the penalties were pretty strong- I believe if you went over the threshold, you lost ALL of the funding for those students. Under the new budget, they've set up several tiers. Thus, the district would get 100% of the funding if we're under 21 students per class, but we'll still get 70% of the funding if we're under 24 students per class.

Obviously this isn't a simple equation. If you have exactly 42 first grade students at your site, there is no savings to create one class of 24 students and one class of 18. However, we do have several instances where we have "cohort groups" (an entire group at a grade level) that makes this recombination attractive because the numbers work out. If a campus has 72 first grade students, we'd currently be running 4 classes of 18 students each. Under the new plan, we could run 3 classes of 24 each and still qualify for 70% of the State subsidy.

Across the district, it works out such that we can eliminate 10 teacher positions and combine classes into these slightly larger rooms. We'd save something like $600,000 (my est.) in teacher salaries and benefits, but it is offset by a reduced state subsidy. The district has done all the puts-and-takes and determined that we'll net $300,000 in savings. Based on comments from the School Board, I *believe* they are not planning on moving kids to different campuses to achieve this savings.

What to do:
If this were my daughter's class, I'd be very concerned about an increase from 18-20 kids up to 24 kids. It's a big load on a teacher. I would expect that next fall, the K-3 teachers will be looking for more parent volunteer hours to help in the classroom. This particularly makes sense with things like reading groups, where breaking the kids into small groups is desirable. We can all help by planning for more volunteer hours next fall.

Keep in mind, also, that Classroom Size Reduction is the #1 item to be brought back as we find sustainable funding. That means that if the LATA gives something back in their contract, or LAEF finds a spare $300K under the mattress, this is the first program we'll restore. Hopefully this will come to pass and it won't be an issue.

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