Candidate drops bid for school board to focus on class size reduction
English professor hopes parcel tax will be on May ballot
The short-lived fourth candidate for Pleasanton school board says he dropped out of the race to dedicate his time to reducing class size in the district.
Sean Kullman, a two-year resident of Pleasanton and a former English professor at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, has started the website PleasantonEducation.org. His aim is to put together a parcel tax initiative for May.
"I've gone to enough school board meetings. I felt my time would be better spent working on a parcel tax to reduce class sizes," Kullman said. "I'm going to be meeting with the superintendent and the board to figure out what the cost would be.
Kullman gave up his tenured position to move west and become a stay-at-home dad when his wife took a position at Stanford University. He said he's been focused on education since before he had children.
Class sizes in Pleasanton elementary schools are at 30-1 this year. That's due to cuts in funding from California, which initiated a class-size reduction program in 1996 after a Tennessee study showed children from kindergarten to third grade did better academically at ratios of 13 to 17 to one.
The boost in class sizes led the district to bring back staggered start times so that students in grades 1 to 3 could have smaller classes in the morning or afternoon to focus on reading.
"I think they had to do it," Kullman said. "If you ask someone (in the district) whether they wanted to do it, they'd say no."
But with 45 minutes less class time a day, Kullman worries about students getting the minimum instructional time -- 50,400 minutes -- required by the state. Staggered start times give students 115 minutes over that minimum time, according to school officials.
Kullman said parents are "absolutely concerned" and many have reacted by hiring private tutors.
"I know a number of parents who have invested in online programs to augment what's being done in schools, particularly when it comes to math skills and language arts," he said.
Kullman is troubled about the possibility that children without parents who can afford tutors and online programs will get left behind.
"I worry that large class sizes will affect all learners, but children from families struggling financially will feel the most impact," Kullman said. "Regardless of family income, small class sizes allow for more individualized attention and an opportunity to catch learning differences early on before a student develops serious skill deficits."
Kullman hopes that a targeted parcel tax focused specifically on reducing student-teacher ratios will be enough to motivate voters to approve a ballot measure. Two parcel tax campaigns have failed so far to garner the minimum two-thirds plus one vote required to pass.