Some classrooms may see an extra student or two this year following action by the Board of Education as school administrators in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District prepare for the start of another school year.
At a special meeting Friday morning, Aug. 14, board members approved a resolution that would give district staff flexibility to increase K-3 and ninth-grade class sizes up to a maximum of 22:1.
A number of factors combined to bring the issue before the board. The recently approved state budget resulted in an additional funding cut of $6.5 million. The reduction, coupled with the news this week that they would be losing any additional revenue for keeping new classes to the 20:1 level, would result in serious budget issues for the district.
In addition, according to Assistant Superintendent Christine Williams, maintaining the 20:1 class size ratio would result in nearly every school being full and more than 300 students being diverted to other schools in the district. In one case, Williams said, a family with four children were having to deal with the possibility of their children being split up among different schools.
"We still have a handful of students we don't know where they'll be this year," Williams said.
Williams explained to the board that allowing flexibility to a maximum of 22 students per classroom would eliminate nearly all of the diversions. It would also keep the staffing levels stable, with a slight increase in teachers and would save the district an estimated $600,000-$800,000.
Based on current enrollment figures, Williams estimated that somewhere around 20 percent of the effected classrooms would see a population increase and very few would increase to the maximum of 22 students.
Superintendent Steve Enoch explained that
the savings would come from the district not hiring nearly two dozen additional teachers to staff the classrooms required by the lower ratio. He added that those teachers in all likelihood would have been laid off at the end of the school year regardless, as the increasing financial difficulties forced the district to move to the higher classroom ratios.
"We face an incredibly challenging budget process and we need to seize any opportunity we can," Enoch said.
School Board Member Greg Marvel said he can understand the need for making the change but he counseled the board members to hold off until their Aug. 18 meeting.
"The vast majority of taxpayers voted (on Measure C) in large part to save class sizes," he said. "If we, at the last minute, when parents think this issue was resolved, approve going above 20:1, we'll see a massive political uproar."
Marvel said he felt that because class sizes were a large part of the discussion on Measure C, many parents would feel betrayed by the board's action and it could conceivably harm any future chances for the district to pass a bond issue or parcel tax measure.
He added, "I have an issue with increasing class sizes when we have yet to receive any concessions from our employee unions, including management."
Board members agreed with the concern but said the situation requires immediate action.
"Being fiscally responsible means we have to be nimble when circumstances change. Circumstances have changed," said Board Member Paul Gardner.
"If we do our job right and communicate I think this could be good for us," agreed Trustee Rachel Hurd.
Board Member Ken Mintz asked how delaying the decision to Tuesday would affect the situation. Williams explained that the families on diversion need to get registered at their respective schools, administrators need to get classrooms set up and class lists made, and the district would need to hire teachers to have them in place before the Aug. 25 start date.
"I don't want anyone to get the impression that we're making quick decisions," Mintz stated, "but at the same time we're elected and appointed to make prudent financial decisions."
Board President Bill Clarkson said that with the constant stream of cuts coming from Sacramento, districts are left with few options. He added that while making the decision Friday may not be the most politically expedient, it is the right decision given the situation.
"I think we have to have the courage to make decisions. We're not shutting the public out, but we need to act on this now," he said.
After a lengthy discussion about the issue, the board voted in favor of giving staff the flexibility to increase class sizes up to a maximum of 22:1. The vote was 4-1 with Greg Marvel voting against.
The class size issue will be a discussion item at the Aug. 18 meeting. Clarkson said they will give an update on the situation, explain to those attending how they came to the decision, and provide more statistical data about how many classrooms will be affected.