Students, Teachers and Parents Demand Smaller Classes
Overflowing schools, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate staffing to support children with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) were all the subject of extensive and impassioned public complaint at the Sept. 24 Santa Clara Unified school board meeting. This included a demonstration by students carrying signs saying “1 of 29” – referring to the number of students in their classes.
Parents spoke of long overdue mandated IEP reviews, support services that had yet to materialize, and an overall shortage of special education teachers and aides.
Teachers spoke about overwhelming and growing student loads. One long-term substitute hired to cover a kindergarten class, Alicia Alder, sent the board a letter describing how she arrived on the first day of school to find no curriculum and no class materials. She said she waited two weeks before getting any help. In the meantime she purchased supplies and designed lesson plans herself.
Middle school teacher Tracy Pope, spoke about two students who needed a remedial class but couldn’t enroll – not because there wasn’t room, but because there wasn’t room in other sections of their required classes to accommodate the schedule change. “This is a consequence of priorities that keep classes at the absolute maximum [size],” said Pope. “We have no flexibility.”
Class size reduction and increased hiring wasn’t on the meeting agenda. However, class size reduction is an issue teachers want included in contract discussions currently underway.
“I would like you [the board], through bargaining, to direct class size reduction,” said Pope. The current contract caps class size at 30 for kindergarten through 3rd grade, 33 for 4th and 5th grades, 38 in middle school, and 39 in high school.
“The old mentality [which was] wait until you see the whites of their eyes” made sense during the years of deep budget cuts and teacher layoffs, said United Teachers of Santa Clara President Michael Hickey. “But now there are many districts hiring, including our own,” he continued. “We have a $419 million bond that we passed … We have a responsibility to use that to serve our students.”
Parent and school psychologist Vickie Fairchild told the board that she had never seen excess staffing. “Let’s not worry about a problem we’ve never had. Let’s solve the one we do.”
One challenge this year is higher kindergarten enrollment in some schools than expected, according to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Andrew Lucia. Forecasting enrollment can be challenging in an area undergoing the rapid change Silicon Valley is, he said. History is a less useful guide distinguishing anomalies from trends. Just as an unexpected number of kindergarteners registered at some schools this year, other schools with similar demographics saw lower than expected enrollment.
Currently, SCUSD has roughly 60 openings for certificated teachers and other educational support staff posted on the school employment website EdJoin.org. Santa Clara County’s 32 school districts have about 475 posted openings.
In 1996 California launched a drive to cap class sizes at 20 by providing subsidies for reducing class size. When the State ‘s budget crisis cut school funding, the legislature allowed schools to increase class sizes and retain some of that subsidy on the grounds that it allowed districts flexibility to deal with other funding reductions.
When Gov. Jerry Brown restructured school funding, he included a bonus for class size reduction, but only as long every school in the district maintains average class sizes of 24 or less. This came with a concession. If districts can negotiate larger class sizes with their teachers’ unions, they keep the bonus.
Stampolis Continues to Stonewall on Conflict of Interest Allegation
At last Thursday’s meeting, the SCUSD board gave Trustee Christopher Stampolis one last chance to voluntarily disclose the nature of the consulting services he provides to the Laborers’ Pacific Southwest Regional Organizing Coalition, a part of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) and to recuse himself from board discussions and actions about a Project Labor Agreement for the district’s upcoming construction projects.
At the Aug. 13 meeting, attorney Sherman Wong advised the board that Stampolis’ consulting contract with LiUNA, under which Stampolis has been paid $5,000 a month since 2012, constitutes a conflict of interest that, by law, requires Stampolis to publicly explain of the scope and nature of these services and to recuse himself from board discussion or action on PLAs.
“I’ve yet to receive a request from staff, or the board acting as a whole, or any of the staff or board representatives, for disclosure of any specific documents,” Stampolis responded.
“There is precedent not just in the state but in our Bay Area that when there was a question at a public agency, and this was just a couple of weeks ago in the City of Pinole, the governing board there sent a letter to Fair Political Practices Commission, asking their opinion in regard to whether a conflict existed in that case.
“So I suggest again that that be something we do in this district … so the FPPC has an opportunity to weigh in,” he continued. “While I don’t personally believe there’s a conflict, based on my understanding of the law, I certainly would welcome the opinion of the professionals at the Fair Political Practices Commission. If they have a different opinion I’d be glad to read that … I think it saves district money … and we would get an expeditious response.”
“With that, we’ll close that item and move on,” said Board President Albert Gonzalez.
In Thursday’s closed session, according to the published agenda, the board conferred with its attorney about “potential litigation initiated by the District against Board of Trustees member Chris Stampolis to compel Mr. Stampolis’ compliance with conflicts of interest disclosure requirements under Government Code Â§1090 and the District’s Bylaws and/or to compel Mr. Stampolis’ recusal from all further Board considerations and actual/purported effort to influence other Board of Trustees members” in any matters concerning PLAs.
Stampolis’ concern for the district’s legal bills is open to question. According to its financial records, SCUSD has spent about $145,000 in legal bills related to Principal Susan Harris’ harassment complaint against Stampolis, in which she won a permanent restraining order against the trustee.
Because of the restraining order, the district has determined that police presence is necessary at any meeting that may include Harris, according to SCUSD PIO Jennifer Dericco, as well as providing an additional safety precaution at board meetings. Since 2014, district records show this has cost about $17,000.
Requiescat in Pace
The Sept. 24 meeting was adjourned in memory of district staff member Mike Tran, who died recently after a long illness.