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Education Desk: August 27, 2014

State Requirements Mandate Additional Classes, Not Necessarily Smaller Ones

Santa Clara Unified is adding 11 new classrooms for transitional kindergarten through third grade (TK-3) to meet the state requirement of teacher-to-student ratios set by the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

On Jan. 24, 2014 State Superintendent of Public Education, Tom Torlakson published “Local Control Funding Formula, Kindergarten and Grades One through Three Grade Span Adjustment Regulations for the 2014-2015 school year” – in plain English, teacher-to-student ratios, which generally means reduced class sizes.

Last week – the first week of school – the Santa Clara Unified School District Board of Trustees got around to putting the new rules, and SCUSD’s compliance with them, on the agenda.

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“As part of the 2012-13 budget adjustment, the CDE dumped the old Class Size Reduction program,” explained SCUSD Superintendent of Business Services Mark Allgire. In its place, the CDE set a goal of 24 students per teacher in TK-3 grades by 2021, with a formula for annual progress targets for each school site.

However, the new program isn’t simply a requirement that each classroom have no more than 24 students. Instead, it sets targets that are overall averages for the school. For example, if a school’s target is a ratio of 27:1, the school could still meet requirements with one class of 30 students and another of 24.

“School by school, you have to have a teacher in a [separate] classroom,” Allgire explained. An additional teacher in the same room doesn’t count. Combination classes can count, but if the class is a 3rd-4th grade, the 4th graders are included in the numbers.

The program provides $715 per student in additional state funding for this year, which adds up to $1.1 million for SCUSD. However, warned Allgire, “Failure to make the adequate annual progress at any single school site results in the loss of the funding for the entire district. This is a draconian penalty if you fail at one site.” And the CDE is including these ratios in its audits starting this year, Allgire told the board.

Currently, the district has 11 schools that don’t meet the targets, and the staff proposal was to add the teachers needed at each of those schools to comply. The district has the space and the desks and materials for the additional classrooms, but it would take some time to equip them.

After Allgire’s report, the board launched into a lengthy discussion of alternatives.

Trustee Ina Bendis proposed moving two teachers from Hughes and Scott Lane, which are significantly under full capacity. Allgire replied that while that could be done – in fact, the number of new hires could even be further reduced to seven by shuffling more students among schools. But that only works for the current year. Next year there will be a lower average student-to-teacher ratio goal for the district to meet, and “to some degree” hiring new teachers this year will mitigate the need to hire new teachers next year, said Allgire.

How does Open Enrollment affect the picture, Trustee Christopher Stampolis wanted to know. If Washington Open filled four open spaces from its waiting list, would the “domino effect” change the picture at other schools? That, of course, is an unknown, but Allgire advised that relying on chance leaves the district vulnerable.

Does the program even apply to Basic Aid districts, asked Board President Christine Koltermann.

“We do not get grade span adjustment funding directly,” replied Allgire. “We do receive it indirectly, since we receive property taxes that exceed the total LCFF allocation. This has been put in the audit guide, and there’s nothing saying that the auditors are to test only LCFF districts. They’re to test all districts. I believe that ultimately we will be held accountable.” In short, the state could present the district with a bill for $1.1 million for not complying.

In the end, the board voted unanimously to accept the staff recommendation and add 11 classrooms.

Across-the-Board Class Size Reduction to Wait

At the Aug. 21 meeting, the subject of teacher-student ratios raised the larger issue of class size reduction – something that has come up repeatedly since the district received a $20 million windfall from the state’s shutdown of redevelopment agencies in 2012.

“The longer conversation will be when we get the [November] bond passed,” said Superintendent Stan Rose. “I think that’s a strategic planning item…[to] explore over the next couple of months.”

“I would like us to not wait until the results of the November bond,” replied Trustee Andrew Ratermann. “I want this to be something that we’re aggressively working on.”

The discussion about class size reduction was “premature,” said Bendis. “I would like to remind my colleagues that we are scheduled to re-open Central Park next year.” As a result, attendance areas will change, creating an entirely different landscape.

Meeting the regulations shouldn’t be the limit of the district’s goals, said Trustee Albert Gonzalez. “I hope to see a better plan when we talk about class size reduction.”

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