School board approves smaller classes for first-graders | May 17, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - May 17, 2013

School board approves smaller classes for first-graders

Class sizes will be reduced from 30 to 25 next school year

by Glenn Wohltmann

The Pleasanton school board has approved class size reductions for first-graders.

The move from 30 students per classroom to 25 comes after a months-long push by parents and the Pleasanton Partnerships in Education and will cost the district $112,000. PPIE raised $213,000 toward the reduction, but fell short of total funding.

Despite a unanimous vote to approve making up the shortfall, school board members wrangled over the way the funding request was made and whether it is appropriate for two members, Chris Grant and Joan Laursen, to sit on the PPIE board.

Board Member Jamie Hintzke suggested the two abstain from the vote because of their involvement with PPIE.

Hintzke pointed out that the $112,000 donation would put the district into deficit spending for the 2014-15 school year, although administrators say the shortfall could be made up by additional cuts or additional revenue.

"I bring this up just because I want everybody to know the road we're going down," Hintzke said.

Grant and Laursen defended their right to vote on making up the PPIE shortfall.

"I really don't think there's a conflict there," Laursen said. "We get $325,000 worth of value and it costs us $112,000.

Grant called the decision a "no brainer," saying the district gains $525,000 in the deal, counting the PPIE donation and state funding for smaller classes.

"That's teachers," he said.

Board Member Valerie Arkin noted that she resigned from her position on the YMCA board when she was elected.

"There should probably be a conversation whether school board members should sit on the PPIE board," she said.

Board President Jeff Bowser disagreed with the comparison. He said the YMCA makes money through contracts it has with the district.

"We're not giving money to PPIE, we're giving money to ourselves," he said.

Hintzke also said making up the shortfall "felt forced on us."

"We have a way bigger picture that we have to look at and consider," she said. Hintzke also wondered why class size reduction came up at the end of the PPIE campaign to raise money. The organization has already paid for a number of positions through its annual fundraising.

Laursen said smaller class sizes was part of the PPIE plan since last year.

More than 30 parents came out to support class size reductions and 11 asked for the contribution from the district, with a number asking that the board consider smaller class sizes for older children as well.

The district has already budgeted to move to 20-student 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 smaller classes.

The board also heard a report on staggered reading, which the district plans to continue in the upcoming school year, although with a different name. It will now be called "staggered literacy instruction."

One elementary school, Valley View, is opting out of staggered reading for third-grade students. That's because the school is in mandated "program improvement" status, which requires specific time be devoted toward basic instruction, so third-graders at Valley View will have the same schedule as fourth- and fifth-graders.

The board also heard a report on technology upgrades that will be needed to implement new state standards for learning, which require students to take tests on computers.

A plan presented to the board for review calls for spending more than $1.6 million on hardware and software for schools. Under the plan, every school would have a computer lab, and some schools would have mobile labs that can be used when the regular labs are being used for testing.

Chris Hobbs, the district's director of technology services, said a review of equipment showed both Apple and Windows computers in use, and that while some schools have purchased computers in the last year, others are using equipment that's more than 10 years old.

The plan also calls for rotating equipment into each school so that not all the equipment at any given school would be obsolete at the same time.


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