At a workshop session the morning of Aug. 14, board members approved a resolution that would give district staff the flexibility to increase K-3 and ninth-grade class sizes up to a maximum of 22:1. Previously, the district was working to maintain a 20:1 ratio.
At their regular board meeting Tuesday, members outlined their reasoning for the parents in attendance. School Superintendent Steve Enoch said there were a number of factors that brought the issue of class sizes to a head. The recently approved state budget resulted in an additional funding cut of $6.5 million. The reduction, coupled with the news last week that the district will be losing any additional revenue for keeping new classes to the 20:1 level, would result in serious budget issues for the district.
Revenue estimates for the next few years showed that if the district maintained class sizes at the current level, it would end the current school year with a balance of $5,378,768. But by the end of the year 2012-13, it would see a deficit of more than $40 million.
"If there were no other factors than this that would be enough to make me think about it," said Enoch.
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 would have had to deal with the possibility of their children being split up among different schools.
Based on current enrollment figures, Williams estimated that only 8 percent of the classrooms in the district would see their enrollments climb to that 22 student figure. Thirty-five percent would be at 21, and 57 percent would be at 20 or below.
"These numbers change over time," she explained. "As kids come into the district the data will change. These numbers are as of Sunday night."
Enoch explained that making the change saved the district around $700,000 and prevented the layoffs of 10-12 teachers at the end of the current school year.
Board President Bill Clarkson lauded the move as doing what's best for the community.
"It's not so much the money that we're saving but the fact that we're making things better for 300 families. That's what made this the right thing to do," he said.
Following the decision Friday, the school district sent an e-mail to parents informing them of the class-size change and offering them an opportunity to address the board Tuesday. A small group of parents attended the meeting to hear the rationale on the change. Parent Elizabeth Cavanaugh addressed the board during public comment. She reminded the board that it had brought in 750 signatures on a petition to keep class sizes at 20:1.
Cavanaugh said that she and other reduced-class-size supporters understand that the state changed the budget assumptions. She also said that they appreciated the work the board has done to minimize the effect of the constant funding cuts. But, she asked the board members if they would be willing to state that their intent is to maintain the 20:1 class size.
Board members addressed the issue, saying that while they would like to be able to say that they will definitely keep class sizes down, it is not a realistic statement to make.
"If you look at this environment, it's a luxury we can't afford right now," answered Board Member Rachel Hurd. "The cuts we're looking at in the next four years are going to be worse."
Hurd argued that Measure C was not designed to keep class sizes down, nor did it state that intention anywhere in the ballot language or in the public statements made.
"If people voted for Measure C to protect class sizes, we are sorry. The goal is to retain teachers and provide a quality education. Not a blind commitment to 20:1," she said.
Trustee Paul Gardner said he sympathized with Cavanaugh's concerns, but he didn't feel that making a promise on the class sizes would be fair to the supporters.
"We could say that we're going to keep class sizes down, but the words would be hollow," he said.
Board Member Greg Marvel voted against the plan during the workshop Friday, saying he wanted the public to have a say in the issue first since so many people were concerned about class sizes.
"I can't recast my vote, but apparently my concerns were unfounded and I was being overly cautious," he said. "I think the staff came up with the best situation they could out of the problem. As much as I'm opposed to raising 20:1 I think eminently it was the right thing to do."