While Santa Clara Unified students enjoyed their school break, the Board of Trustees discussed class sizes for TK through third grade as well as updating the District’s outdoor masking requirement.
The Board has been determined to keep lower class sizes to help with learning recovery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the meeting on Thursday, Feb. 24, they heard more on class sizes and budget implications.
In the end, the Board decided they would move forward with “Scenario 3” which would set a 22-1 class size ratio for TK through third grade for the 2022-2023 school year. This scenario would require three additional teachers to help bring three schools — Agnews, Central Park and Sutter — into the 22-1 compliance. The approximate cost would be $474,000 for the three teachers and staff didn’t foresee any facility issues to accommodate them.
The whole Board agreed that smaller class sizes would be beneficial to their younger students, but some were concerned about having a district-wide class size when some sites have a greater need, especially with deficit spending looming over them.
“Yes, I think smaller class sizes can be great,” said Board Member Michele Ryan. “My concern with the Board giving that direction, unilaterally, across the board doesn’t allow us to target those smaller class sizes where they’re needed most. And what we ended up with this year is a situation where we had, two weeks into the school year, class sizes of 10. Where teachers are saying that’s actually too small. ‘I can’t do some of the things I would do with group work with a class that small.’ And that’s the problem when you have the Board getting into the weeds, making these decisions.” She went on to remind the Board that they need to be fiscally responsible and targeting this help, would be more responsible.
“Equity isn’t equal,” said Board Member Albert Gonzalez. “I don’t think an equal approach is something we should move towards. If we do something in this line, we should only do this for one year. We’re bleeding [financially]. Some of us we’ve been through the bad times 10, 12 years ago. Pink slips are not fun.”
Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to figure out a more targeted approach. According to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jose Gonzalez, he has meetings regarding this in the coming days and contracts stipulate the timing.
Board Clerk Bonnie Lieberman wished they could be flexible, and Board Member Jim Canova was concerned about giving a specific number for class sizes. He was also worried about future layoffs.
The motion, made by Board President Jodi Muirhead, said to move forward with the 22-1 for TK through third grade. She modified the motion to one-year, due to Gonzalez’s concerns. The motion passed 4-3, with Canova, Gonzalez and Ryan voting ‘no.’
Board Member Andy Ratermann eyed the budget impact of the class sizes and wanted staff to bring back a presentation with half a million dollars of cuts and options. This motion passed unanimously. Fairchild said she wants to see more budget discussion happening when they approve hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultants.
Additionally, Fairchild wanted to set the Special Education class sizes for those with moderate to severe autism to 8-1 (it is currently 12 to 1). Superintendent Dr. Stella Kemp said they would bring back more information to the March 24 Board meeting.
Laurelwood & Peterson Project
The highly anticipated, new Laurelwood Elementary School is deep in the planning process. Michal Healy, Director, Facility Development and Planning, and Brian Meyers with HMC Architects have been meeting with stakeholders to gather input.
As of the meeting they have narrowed down the plan design to two options but are still refining the plan. Concept A would have the Laurelwood campus on the north side of the site, while Concept B would have the campus on the south side. Each has different design choices, but Healy says that even now, they are updating the designs as they gather more feedback, including input from the farmer who runs the on-site farm.
Board Members said they have received emails about traffic concerns and said they hope they will find a good solution.
Meyers said the Master Plan will come to the April 28 meeting for Board Approval. The goal is to complete the Laurelwood campus during the Summer of 2026. They will start improvements on the Peterson Middle School fields and complete that by August 2024. These are the only currently funded projects as well as the demolition of the current Laurelwood site.
Healy said future phases are not funded, including Peterson modernization, parking and drop-off improvements at Peterson, Nature Center Improvements, an Environmental Center and Farm enhancements. Fairchild wanted to be very clear that these projects are not funded and would require savings from other bonds or a new bond.
Healy said they have additional community meetings coming up and stakeholders can also email in thoughts to PetersonLaurelwoodPlan@scusd.net.
Outdoor Masking Not Required
Outdoor masking at Santa Clara Unified sites is now optional. The Board has relaxed its stricter rule and will follow CDPH guidance. The motion passed 6-1 with Muirhead voting ‘no’ because she wanted to wait for regulatory organizations to review indoor masking.
Additionally, the staff asked if they could have the ability, in collaboration with employee associations, to adjust the District COVID-19 Safety Plan as regulatory agencies change recommendations and guidelines. The Board agreed and passed the motion unanimously. Gonzalez added that if staff wants to make stricter requirements than the regulatory agencies, it should come before the Board first. This gives staff the ability to update the Safety Plan when indoor masking requirements change.
In other news, according to Jennifer Dericco, Director of Communications, vaccinations for children under five, will be delayed for at least a few months, now that the surge is not as intense. Attendance is now at 95%, said Chief Academic and Innovation Officer Brad Stam, and more Independent Study students will return to in-person after the break. Dericco said the District received a letter of termination from Grapefruit Testing. Now, the District community should get tested at other sites. Dr. Kemp thanked Santa Clara Together volunteers who accumulated 300 volunteer hours at sites.
Muirhead adjourned the meeting with thoughts to Ukraine. The Santa Clara Unified Board has a special meeting on Tuesday, March 1 at 7 p.m. and their next regular meeting is on Thursday, March 10 at 6:30 p.m.