Capo Trustees 'Regretfully' Ask to Increase Class Sizes

The district will seek a waiver to bump class sizes up to 33 students on average in grades four to eight.

In a meeting that was at times tense and emotional, the  board of trustees voted 4-3 Wednesday to ask the state for permission to increase class sizes beyond what the law allows in grades four through eight.

It's seeking permission to average as many as 33 students in those grades, which would save the district $10 million. “We are now at the stage—at the unfortunate stage—that there aren’t many other ways,” Superintendent Joseph Farley told the board in reference to solving the district's looming budget deficit.

If granted approval from the state, the board is not obligated to enact the class size increases, said Ron Lebs, deputy superintendent for business and support services.

State law requires class sizes in those grades to average no more than 29.9 students per teacher. If a district’s average exceeds that number, it faces stiff penalties. The only way to get around the law is to ask the state Board of Education for a waiver.

Farley told the board that Capo needs the waiver to give itself more options as it considers how to plan for $20 million in cuts a worst-case scenario would require. 

The district finds itself with only three options, Farley said:

  • A reduction in employee salary and benefits
  • Class size increases
  • Furlough days

Because the potential budget gap is so large, a combination of all three is probably needed, he added.

But board members struggled with the request.

“Five years ago, the constituents specifically asked me to worry and be concerned about the class sizes,” said Trustee Anna Bryson. "Although I understand the terrible vise that has control of all of the school districts … I will have to hope we can find other ways.”

Trustee Lynn Hatton, with two children in middle school, said she needed to detach herself from the emotions she feels as a mother. As an educator, she knows that studies show that class size has little impact on student performance.

Hatton cited a book, Visible Learning, by John Hattie, that summarizes more than 800 “meta-analyses” of student achievement. Class size came in at 106 on factors that influence student learning.

“It’s not a significant impact to their learning,” she said. She called upon the public to contact their state legislators and urge more support for education.

Bryson noted, however, “The personal feelings of the parents in this district are not in alignment with the research.”

“No matter how you slice it,” said Trustee Ellen Addonizio, “it looks like we’re adding more students” to the classroom. She lamented that the board has yet to hold a budget workshop in which trustees could express their priorities for the coming year. “It is the end of April. We need a budget workshop.”

Farley said that the state’s May revision of the budget may include further bad news for schools. “We’re hoping the $20 million is the worst-case scenario.”

“Just remember, Dr. Farley, hope is not a plan,” Trustee Sue Palazzo said.

Just before Trustee Gary Pritchard, who runs the board meetings, called for a motion, Bryson declared, “This is very painful.”

About 20 seconds of silence passed before Pritchard made the motion himself. After board President Jack Brick seconded it, the motion passed, 4-3, with Addonizio, Bryson and Palazzo voting against. Those trustees who voted for the motion said they did so regretfully.

Two members of the public spoke. Lori Abbott read a letter from Michele Langham, president of the Capistrano Unified Council of Parent-Teacher-Student Associations. She urged the board to put the students’ interest first.

“As PTA, we have a responsibility to speak up for the children who have no voice of their own,” Abbott read.

Dave Sherwood, a Ladera Ranch resident and parent in the district, said that by considering the waiver, “it appears to be the first priority as you try to close the budget gap. I think that’s outrageous.”

Other school board news:

The board voted 5-2, with Addonizio and Palazzo dissenting, to because funding for their positions is tenuous. The 28 employees fill 16.45 full-time jobs, several which involving working with English language learners.

"The district regrets having to bring this item forward," said Jodee Brentlinger, assistant superintendent of personnel services. All of the employees' positions are paid with restricted funds.

For example, Proposition 10 money, which helps children at infancy through pre-kindergarten prepare for school, has been cut by two-thirds, Brentlinger said. On the list of those to get pink-slipped are a supervisor of "school readiness" and a preschool resource teacher.

Correction: This article corrects an earlier version which stated the district was seeking a waiver to average 33 students per class in grades four to eight. The district is actually seeking a waiver to average as many as 33 students.

Shripathi Kamath May 04, 2011 at 08:47 PM
One more thing. Ingrate teachers should move to that paradise of low taxes, no state income taxes, neutered unions, no regulation, (but still run a massive budget deficit somehow), and see how they like it there. http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9MTFG5O0.htm Cut education, cut health care service for the poorest, pollute all you want, have a gun or two on campus, but for god's sake, let us not forget the poor yachtsman his fair shake. It is not ethical to tell someone else what he can or cannot have or earn and get taxed to death*. He earns it. American. Apple Pie. "I support the troops" * Teachers excepted.
Julie Flores May 04, 2011 at 08:56 PM
SK, you crack me up!
cp May 04, 2011 at 09:07 PM
SK - yes I did see major corrections to private sector salaries, 401ks, etc. after the downturn. Are you so snug in your bubble of taxpayer funded everything that you didn't realize the rest of us were getting "corrected" big time?
Shripathi Kamath May 04, 2011 at 09:36 PM
Dunno cp, I don't work in the *financial* private sector to determine if I should be so snug. But I am not snug enough to not notice how you carefully lumped the correction of the financial private sector with the general private sector. Maybe that's what Kasich did too. Incidentally, my 401 K has returned and is doing as well or slightly better than it was before the downturn. In an amazing coincidence so has the stock market. Could it possibly because those patriotic Americans were forced to accept, against their collective wills, some $700 billion in taxpayer forced bailouts? But I want it better than that even. I think we should impose a teaching tax on the teachers. If they don't accept it, that means they do not care for our children. I want to feel irrationally exuberant.
M May 04, 2011 at 09:59 PM
About this comment...."SACRAMENTO (AP) — The pension fund for California’s teachers is facing a $56 billion shortfall, even as its investments are doing better than expected..." Why is AP reporting on only the pension fund for teachers a.k.a. Calstrs? If tis is true would it apply to pension funs for police, sheriff, firefighters, et al? What makes their pension funds more sustainable than teachers? I am very curious and confused about this!
concerned parent May 04, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Their pension fund isn't more sustainable.. it's simply a completely separate fund (CALPERS). Google last year's Stanford study about California facing up to a $500 BILLION pension liability... The pension issues regarding other public employees, including police officers and firefighters, have been well-documented. It's only recently that the degree of the unfunded liability of the California teachers' fund has come to light, thus the AP and other news coverage. As much as it might be nice to "step up," there's a real structural, systemic problem facing California when it comes to its pensions and other benefits for public employees. There truly needs to be solid reform, or we will all face the consequences of a failed economy. Look at what's already happened to California's credit rating.
shelly May 04, 2011 at 10:59 PM
We raised for th whole school district. Not just a specific school.
shelly May 04, 2011 at 11:01 PM
Not bashing it, cp, just saying that we value profit over education even though you can not have one without the other. as a parent, cp, are you willing to help?
Pam Sunderman May 04, 2011 at 11:17 PM
CalSTRS is the most stable fund of all. I got my info from their website. And there is oversight of the fund. It is hsitorically a very stable fund and will continue to be so. The losses suffered reflected the losses everyone suffered and recovery is well underway...surpassing forecasts. BTW...most teachers find it necessary to supplement their retirement with 403b's and other retirement plans. There is no easy street guaranteed for teachers...despite what you may read on anonymous posts. Finally, the teachers retirement and other benefits are a very small percentage of state funds and demolishing them entirely would be a drop in the bucket of debt facing the state. Find another scapegoat because this one does not work any more as the facts come out.
PC May 04, 2011 at 11:58 PM
CalSTRS is the most stable fund of all... The Sacramento Bee reports that the unfunded liability gap for the CalSTRS pension fund grew to $56 billion in the fiscal year that ended last June, an increase of $15.5 billion over the previous year.
M May 05, 2011 at 12:07 AM
@cp I get the impression from all your knowledge and comments that perhaps you were fond of the previous cusd board of trustees? They were very anti teacher.
Pam Sunderman May 05, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Unfunded liabilities, as I understand it, are the monies needed to have on hand should funding remain at the same level. It is a little like saying you have to have enough money on hand right now to pay your mortgage that is due in 30 years.
Pam Sunderman May 05, 2011 at 12:34 AM
Here is a google definition doe unfunded liabilitities. "The actuarial calculation of the value of future benefits payable (eg. to members of a defined benefit superannuation fund) less the net assets of the fund at a given balance date. www.moneymanager.com.au/tools/glossary/dict_u.html In other words, if that $56 billion were needed today we would have a problem. As it is, it may reflect a temporary trend due to the downturn of the economy or it may mean that teacher contributions may need to increase if the trend continues. In any case it has no bearing on the ability of the fund to pay retirements at this time. And it will not for years to come. Throwing this baby out with the bathwater is neither necessary nor wise. It is historically stable. And it is dynamically overseen to ensure that it remains so.
shelly May 05, 2011 at 03:11 AM
Concerned Parent, If we all stepped up it would do the job. When a community comes together for a common goal great things can and do happen!!! The good of the children, concerned parent, this is the common goal, for the good of the children.
cp May 05, 2011 at 06:30 AM
There is an excellent book written by Steven Greenhut which describes why these unfunded pension liabilities are going to spell doom for California and other states with out of control public unions. It's called Plunder and clearly and concisely describes the train wreck in our future if we stick our heads in the sand and assume that because defined benefit plans worked in the past, they will work in the future. Teachers, you pride yourselves on being open minded and educated. Please read something about public unions that wasn't written by the NEA/CTA.
cp May 05, 2011 at 06:33 AM
$500 billion in unfunded pension liabilities (number is from the LA Times) is not a drop in the bucket.
cp May 05, 2011 at 06:43 AM
And the CalSTRS website is not the place to go to get an objective look at CalSTRS.
cp May 05, 2011 at 06:46 AM
I cant speak for the past board but I am not anti teacher. I just see an impending train wreck and want to avoid it. But with public union ownership of Sacramento, it's probably unavoidable.
shelly May 05, 2011 at 02:00 PM
CP, Steven Greenhut who worked for the OC Register and Pacific Research Institute? This book is unbiased? Do you have any unbiased sources to recommend to make your case? Please read something about public unions that is from an unbiased source.
cp May 05, 2011 at 03:58 PM
This from someone who gets all information and talking points from the teacher's unions. I give up - enjoy this forum with your union buddies. See you at the district meeting tonight where we'll all discuss where to put the deck chairs as the SS Capo speeds toward the big berg...
shelly May 05, 2011 at 04:33 PM
cp, You told others to read objective sources. Steven Greenhut is not objective. So read both sides like you advise others to do. I am a parent. I am not a member of any union but I have a deep respect for teachers.
concerned parent May 05, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Shelly, If you don't want to read Greenhut, read the original academic study where the $500 billion in unfunded liability number comes from. Here's a link: http://www.stanford.edu/group/siepr/cgi-bin/siepr/?q=/system/files/shared/GoingforBroke_pb.pdf The faculty adviser for the research project was Joe Nation, a termed-out Assembly DEMOCRAT. Check out his bio. How is it you believe this study isn't an objective source? He is, by no stretch of the imagination, a conservative. CP, I'm with you. I give up. There's too great a percentage of Americans who are willing to bury their heads in the sand about the realities of the economic crisis facing this country, with no resolve to do anything to fix Social Security or Medicare, let alone deal with the pension/benefit issues that are strangling every level of government, particularly in California. Parents and taxpayers, come tonight to the meeting and make your voices heard. I doubt most of the board will listen, but it's our civic responsibility to try.
Capo Dad May 05, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Wow! We've got union hack JollyGirl with her insights on how defined benefit pensions work. Shelly wanting parents to step with more $ rather than asking the teachers/union to sacrifice. Bob (so glad he's now a former teacher) trying to make an economic comparison between teachers and baby-sitters. And Concerned Parent patiently trying to reason with their simple minds. God help us!
Pam Sunderman May 05, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Ah yes...insults. The last resort when you have nothing productive to add to the conversation.
M May 05, 2011 at 09:34 PM
And what's your contribution capo dad besides your sarcasm? You obviously have nothing of value to add.
Bob Rohwer May 05, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Way to stay classy, capo dad.
M May 06, 2011 at 04:01 AM
SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s state and local government workers make salaries similar to those at large private-sector employers but get significantly higher retirement benefits, and teachers make far less after retirement than other public employees, a study issued Thursday concluded. The conclusions were part of a report by consultants hired by the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit involved in research on pension reform. The group shares roots and some advisers with an organization preparing a statewide ballot initiative that seeks to force changes in government pensions.
Capo Parent May 06, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Were they "anti-teacher" because the teachers' union said so? Were they anti-teacher because they were the first board to bring in an independent negotiator to negotiate with the unions? Were they anti-teacher because they didn't want to place most of the needed budget cuts on the backs of the kids by dramatically increasing class sizes? Were they anti-teacher when they placed a cap on health benefits given CUSD's dire financial condition and the yearly uncontrolled increases in health costs? (Ironically, isn't the cap on health benefits the only contract item the teachers' union requested be open? They got most of the pay back, now their after uncapped health benefits at a time when CUSD has to cut at least $20 million.) Were they anti-teacher because they didn't agree to everything the teachers' union wanted? There were times when the prior board was being "anti-teacher" was the right thing to do and really was for the kids.
shelly May 10, 2011 at 04:51 AM
Yes, the previous board seemed to be anti-teacher. They imposed instead of negotiating with our teachers. How many school districts in California had a teachers's strike last year? Almost every district cut teachers pay yet CUSD under the previous board had a teachers' strike. Why? Because they imposed their will instead of negotiating.
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