Parents push PUSD for smaller class sizes | March 29, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - March 29, 2013

Parents push PUSD for smaller class sizes

Education foundation asks district to kick in if it falls short on raising money to cut class sizes

by Glenn Wohltmann

At the last school board meeting, teachers came before the board to ask for smaller class sizes and for reading specialists to be restored. Tuesday night, it was parents' turn to ask for smaller classes.

About 25 parents, most wearing stickers that read "CSR" for class size reduction, told the board that classes in elementary schools are overcrowded.

Lisa Hopkins, a former teacher and parent of two children attending Walnut Grove Elementary, said there are "horrendous teacher stories" about how crowded the classroom are and how difficult it is to teach a class of 30 students.

"There's chaos in these numbers," Hopkins told the board.

Alice Cruce said her daughter in kindergarten is "squished" between classmates.

Emmeline Chen, with two daughters at Walnut Grove, told the board that the district is losing parents to private schools and homeschooling.

"These are parents you don't want to lose," Chen said. "They're feeling a little desperate. They feel like class sizes are getting too large. We're disheartened. We're disillusioned."

She said class sizes were increased even though parents had asked for other cuts.

"We asked you to cut car allowances. You went from $600 a month to $400 a month," Chen said, adding she's sent her daughter to private tutoring because she wasn't getting enough attention in class.

Chen said parents came out to the meeting after Board Member Joan Laursen posted on a blog that she'd consider asking the board to pitch in if a push to pay for lower class sizes in first grade by Pleasanton Partnerships in Education fell short.

"Do you know why they're not donating? They're afraid money will be spent on other things, like raises," Chen said.

In an update on PPIE fundraising, Andrea Stokoe and Jan Skinner both pushed for the district to kick in if the effort to raise enough money to lower first-grade class sizes falls short.

As of March 25, PPIE had raised $381,412, with $246,454 dedicated to elementary schools. Of that, $138,000 will go to pay one literacy coach and to pay for one hour a day for a tech specialist at each elementary school, and $58,000 will pay for an additional hour for a tech specialist, per day per school. PPIE needs to raise $325,000 to lower first-grade class sizes from 30 to 1 to 25 to 1.

Stokoe said if elementary school parents paid $350 per child a year, that would put the district in line with school funding in the San Ramon district. Right now, only about 10% of parents are contributing districtwide, while 50-80% of parents in neighboring districts are contributing.

"Fifty percent participation would bring in $2 million," Skinner told the board. "If every family gave $100, we'd have $1 million."

Skinner said PPIE has decided against paying for a second literacy coach because parents don't support the district's switch from literacy specialists, who work directly with children, to literacy coaches, who work with teachers.

PPIE's fundraising effort will end tomorrow, although there are still donations coming in and the organization has yet to tally the final amount it raised through its annual Bon Apetit fundraiser. It planned for a final big push to bring in money from schools through today. Money raised from the PPIE Run For Education is targeted toward the 2014-15 school year.

The question of contributing the difference to pay for lower class sizes in first grade was met with mixed feelings by board members. Laursen, who posted about her willingness to help was hesitant to commit a large amount of money.

"It's really going to depend on the amount," said Board Member Valerie Arkin, who was concerned that the contribution would set a precedent.

Parent Katy Lu said the 30 to 1 class size, 45 minutes of lost class time through staggered reading programs -- when half the class comes in early and the other half stays late -- for reading instruction, and recently adopted Common Core State Standards, which require a new teaching mentality, were "a recipe for disaster."

She said her daughter's class is so overcrowded, she has to sit facing away from the teacher, and said that teacher told her with 30 to 1 class sizes, "all I do is nag."

The district is set to move to 20 to 1 class sizes for students in kindergarten through third grade in the 2014-15 school year under current district plans that call for spending $2.9 million for class size reductions. That's because state permission to use money for smaller class sizes elsewhere will end that year.

Meanwhile, the district is waiting on Gov. Jerry Brown's revision to the budget, due out in May, to find out what it will actually receive from the state.

In other actions Tuesday night, the board approved short-term borrowing of up to $12 million for the upcoming year to pay its bills while it awaits property tax payments and money from the state. Deputy Superintendent Luz Cazares said the district will likely need to borrow $9 million for the 2013-14 school year.

The board also approved the district's calendar for the upcoming year, and heard an overview on how plans to improve grades and make more students college ready are progressing. The district has committed to a specific set of plans to accomplish that, although much of the information on progress won't be available until the end of the school year at the earliest.


Posted by Confused, a resident of Walnut Grove Elementary School
on Mar 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm

I'm confused. Why is it so easy to add $2.8 million in mostly administrative positions (see Web Link), but paying $100,000 toward CSR would be setting a dangerous precedent?

Posted by local, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Mar 29, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Imagine how much $2.8M would do to help programs like Barton's Reading Program.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Mar 30, 2013 at 10:07 am

what about the more the merrier?