Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 7, 2014

School board approves smaller classes for young students

Restores $2.9 million in spending on jobs, programs

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton School Board last week approved smaller class sizes for early elementary school students, drawing applause from about 20 supporters.

The board unanimously signed off on a plan that would cut class sizes to 25 students for grades 1-3 next year, and for kindergarten and transitional kindergarten classes the year after.

A core of supporters has been stumping for class-size reductions for nearly a year, and successfully fought for smaller classes in first grade this year. On Feb. 25, they were joined by a dozen kids, who held posters thanking the board for smaller classes, including one that read, "Thank you for unlocking our full potential."

The plan approved by the board would keep class sizes at 25 students until the 2020-21 school year, then drop to 24 students. A 24-1 student-to-teacher ratio is mandated by the state by that school year. Districts must show yearly progress toward that goal, and that could mean negotiating with state officials at some point in the future, according to Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi.

"We wouldn't necessarily be making the progress that we need to make," Ahmadi told board members.

But Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares said the rules governing class-size reductions have yet to be written, and the district is using old rules as its guide.

The new rules, Cazares said, "should be out in the next month."

Kindergarten class sizes could drop to 28 students if enough money is raised by Pleasanton Partnerships in Education, and parent Alice Cruce suggested an outreach program for parents of incoming kindergarteners.

Meanwhile, Ahmadi said kindergarten teachers would get extra support, equating to about 20 days for the upcoming school year, while their classes are still large.

Parent Tammy Jernigan asked if staggered reading programs for first- through third-grade students would be eliminated with smaller classes. The program was brought back after a long hiatus as class sizes grew. By staggering the schedule, students had smaller classes for 45 minutes a day, but lost 45 minutes in total class time.

Ahmadi said some teachers would like to continue the staggered start times, but nothing has been finalized.

"Teachers have said it's really important to me to continue staggered reading. We'll come back to you with some additional information in April," she said.

The next step for parents and some board members is for other classes to have fewer students.

"Thank you for coming up with this scenario, we appreciate it," said parent Emmeline Chen. "Knowing me, I'm going to continue to ask you to continue stretching more ... what's clear as I talk to everybody -- everybody wants smaller class sizes."

She asked the board to consider smaller classes in fourth and fifth grade. Board President Jamie Hintzke said she'd like to see smaller class sizes in freshman English and math courses.

Smaller classes for early elementary grades will bring back about 20 teachers, according to Board Member Chris Grant. It will cost more than $1.65 million next year, then jump to more than $2.2 million per year when kindergarten and transitional kindergarten class sizes go down.

The board approved other new jobs at its meeting on Feb. 25, adding back about $2.9 million in spending. It made permanent some positions that were brought back for a single year this year and added others, some permanently and some on a one-time basis.

Those include counselors at elementary, middle and high schools at a cost of $408,000, physical education specialists once a week for grades 1-5 at $400,000 and $322,500 for custodians. The spending plan also sets aside about $550,000 for maintenance.

While the board is spending more, Hintzke asked that one area be cut, saying the district could save $20,000 by eliminating district-paid cell phones for managers.

She suggested the district move to a plan where they would buy their own phones and get a data plan stipend.

The board also approved a set of plans for student achievement. Each school was told to come up with its own set of measurable goals for the upcoming year, along with a way of achieving those goals.

"They provide a road map," said Lisa Hague, the district's program improvement coordinator.

Those goals include increasing test scores for minority students.

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