Parents again push for smaller class sizes | April 19, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - April 19, 2013

Parents again push for smaller class sizes

Board to consider options that could decrease teacher-student ratios for first-graders

by Glenn Wohltmann

Pleasanton parents were out in force again at the Pleasanton School board meeting Tuesday night to plead their case for class size reductions for first-grade students.

About 24 parents were joined by Bob Miller, the president of Pleasanton Partnerships In Education, who said PPIE has raised contributions toward the reductions and is willing to add an additional $78,000, leaving a shortfall of about $117,000.

Miller asked that the board consider closing the gap to reduce class sizes from 30-1 to 25-1 for the coming school year.

"We hope you will agree that reducing class size in first grade is a priority," Miller told the board.

Six parents spoke to ask the same thing of board members.

Emmeline Chen told a story of her daughter's class microwaving marshmallow candy, with some hard pressed to see. Chen asked for reductions in more than first grade.

"We're going to ask you to go a little bit further and consider class size reductions beyond first grade," she said. "The time is now to reduce these class sizes."

Lark Haan said parents understand that class size reductions are a big financial obligation to the district. But she said larger class sizes mean more disruptions in class and that unruly children "feed off each other."

"The community needs to know with certainty that you think class size is important," Haan told the board.

Jen Skinner, Alice Cruce, Andrea Stokoe and Susie Montoya all made the same request.

Stokoe also asked that the board "reach beyond" first grade for class size reductions.

Montoya said she's seen the difference between the education her son received when he was in first grade when class sizes were 25-1 and what her daughter is getting.

"In two years, I've seen a decline in the education she's getting," Montoya said.

Moving class sizes back to 25-1 may be getting some traction with board members, including Valerie Arkin, who asked that staff look at ways it could cut class sizes.

"I'd like to see some options there to see what we can do,"Arkin said. The board agreed to add the issue to the agenda of an upcoming meeting.

In a brief update on the budget, Assistant Superintendent Luz Cazares said revenues are up at the state level.

"This isn't too different from the good news we were hearing last year," Cazares said. "The difference is, last year, the budget was built on risky assumptions."

She said both adult education -- which was supposed to be shifted to community colleges -- and a plan to give poorer districts more money, now known as the Local Control Funding Formula, are both being wrangled over by the state Legislature.

Board members also heard an update on the first year of transitional kindergarten, which brought more than 80 4-year-olds into three elementary schools, Hearst, Lydiksen and Valley View. The plan, spearheaded by Gov. Jerry Brown, will give younger students an extra year to get ready for kindergarten. It focuses on play-based learning, teaching basic reading and number skills along with art and includes a component included in a nationwide push for increased focus on science, technology, engineering and math -- STEM -- where those younger students learn about dinosaurs, magnets and earthquakes.

"These younger students love school from the start," said Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services.

He said two more elementary schools, Alisal and Mohr, will add transitional kindergarten classes in the coming school year to accommodate younger students from across the district.

Board Member Joan Laursen said she visited a transitional kindergarten class during Youth in Government day.

"These were 4-year-olds who were talking about the difference between fiction and nonfiction books," she said.

Some board members are looking forward to seeing how those students do in later school years compared to those who do not go through transitional kindergarten.

The board also took the first step toward laying off the equivalent of more than 11 employees who are not teachers.

"I do understand that with what we've been through over the last few years that can cause some angst," Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the board.

However, he said the layoffs are routine in nature and usually are filled later in the year by donations or school-based funding drives.

"We need to lay them off," Faraghan said. "That's the safe and prudent thing to do."

On a related note, Bonnie Kassan, representing the California School Employees Association, pushed for the district to balance what she called inequities between schools.

"Our schools are not equal," Kassan said, pointing to one school that raised $60,000 at an event and another, holding the same event, that raised $10,000.

"We need equity," she said. "We need a level playing field."

Kassan also called for school Parent-Teacher Associations to combine into a district-wide PTA; Board Member Jamie Hintzke said, however, that PTAs are advocacy groups and not meant to be fundraising organizations, although they have taken on that role in recent years due to state cutbacks to education.

While it was too soon to know how much money from last weekend's Run for Education actually raised, the event was pronounced a success and will likely return next year.

One problem that came up was that the 5K race was not actually five kilometers; event organizer Kelly French said the course was rerouted at the last minute to accommodate the crowd that turned out.

French was lauded by district staff, board members and members of the audience and will be honored by the district at a later board meeting.

The board also heard a report from the Wheelchair Foundation. An effort to raise money through schools for wheelchairs to be sent to Central America raised $10,500, with $5,000 coming from Lydiksen alone.


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