The Lynwood Unified School District has been fined $360,000 by the State Board of Education for placing students in overcrowded classrooms rather than hiring additional teachers or substitutes.
State education officials said the district was fined for constantly violating the state's average limit of 30 students per classroom during the 1988-89 school year. All of the violations occurred in the elementary grades.
The district was criticized particularly for moving students to other classrooms when teachers were absent.
In some cases, students from different grades were placed in the same classrooms when teachers were absent, said Wade Brynelson, a state education official. "Third-graders were being placed with sixth-graders, and so forth," said Brynelson, director of the Compliance and Consolidation Programs Division.
Joseph D. Carrabino, a member of the State Board of Education, said in an interview that placing younger children in classrooms with older children "is immoral. It's a sham. I've never heard of anything that crass.
The district is merely baby-sitting the students, rather than educating them, said Carrabino, a professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Management.
District officials had argued at a board subcommittee hearing last week in Sacramento that they had taken a number of steps to address the overcrowding, including hiring new teachers, renting trailers and raising the pay for substitute teachers.
"We asked them to waive the penalty but were turned down," said Richard Armstrong, president of the Lynwood school board. "They thought what we were doing was a barbaric practice.
"We are bursting at the seams. But we have done things to improve the situation."
Other state education officials said, however, that the district did not make timely efforts to hire substitute teachers or rent trailers.
"The (educational) needs of students were not adequately addressed," said Leroy Hamm, a state education consultant. "The kids were not getting a good education. Teachers were not happy. Parents were not happy."
Joanne Perkins, a veteran elementary teacher who is president-elect of the Lynwood Teachers Assn., said this week that "mixing students together has always been a problem in the district."
Perkins, a third-grade teacher, said on one occasion in the last school year there were 57 students in her classroom--30 of her students and 27 first and third graders from classes of absent teachers. Perkins said that sixth graders also have been sent to her third-grade class at times.
Teachers receive extra pay when they take on additional students, she said.
State education officials said the fine was based on a formula showing that the equivalent of 131 students attended classes over the 30-student limit in first through third grades in the last school year. The number of students was multiplied by $2,749--the amount of state money earmarked for each of the district's 14,000 students--to determine the fine.
The district will dip into its reserve fund, which totals about $4.8 million, to pay the penalty, a Lynwood administrator said.
"They said we would not be adversely affected. They did not give us an opportunity to reply," said Clifford Koch, assistant superintendent.
In an attempt to handle its excessive enrollment, the district placed 10 trailers as portable classrooms at elementary school sites and hired about 20 new teachers, Koch said.
He acknowledged that the district had trouble hiring substitute teachers because surrounding districts offered more pay. But the Lynwood school board recently raised substitute pay from $80 to $90 a day.
Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), whose district covers Lynwood, questioned the fine against the low-income, mostly Latino district.
"Certainly being fined will present an additional hardship in terms of having the dollars that you need to manage and run a school district," she said in an interview. "So, I don't like fines to say: 'I want to make you better,' when in fact it hurts you."
Waters said her office is seeking to determine the accuracy of state allegations about the transfer of students during teacher absences, and the lack of substitute teachers.
Koch, the assistant superintendent, said the district, which has an enrollment growth of about 4% a year, has reached its capacity and has no land for expansion. The district has been attempting to build a new high school for more than five years, but is currently in court with the owners of the land.
Koch said the district is renovating and expanding eight of its nine elementary schools, which are more than 30 years old.
Most of the schools were built to accommodate 500 to 600 students, but enrollment in some of the buildings now is more than double that capacity, Koch said. For example, a total of 1,400 students attend Lindbergh Elementary School and 1,300 students are enrolled at Roosevelt, he said.