Parents at Wilbur Avenue School prepared Wednesday to defend their supposedly surplus teachers, dusting off their proven weapons--the postage stamp, the telephone and the printing press.
By the end of the school day, Wilbur students were taking home flyers that urged parents to write letters to protest plans by the Los Angeles Unified School District to transfer as many as seven of the Tarzana school’s 30 teachers next month because of hiring mistakes made by district officials.
“This will affect all children, as classes in all grade levels would be reorganized. We must say no,” the flyers stated. The flyers were printed by one of the parents and handed out after school.
Wilbur is one of about 45 elementary and secondary schools in the San Fernando Valley that could lose 122 teachers because fewer students than expected are being bused from more crowded inner-city neighborhoods. District officials revealed in November that they had mistakenly put teachers in the wrong schools, but after protests by parents and the teachers’ union they agreed to wait until January to make any changes.
By waiting, however, the district has given schools such as Wilbur a taste of what they are missing, with much smaller than average classes that allow the sort of special attention usually confined to the most expensive private schools, with as few as a dozen students in some classes.
Parents say they will fight to keep the teachers at Wilbur, where most classes have fewer than 25 students, contrasted with 30 or more in similar schools elsewhere in the district.
“It’s been a great year so far because of the smaller classes,” said Terry Hollander, who has two children at Wilbur. “We’re going to write letters and call, whatever we can to stop this.”
The mostly Latino students bused to Wilbur from neighborhoods near downtown have reaped some of the chief benefits of the added staffing.
The 17 Spanish-speaking students in Patrick Finn’s fourth-grade class have progressed much faster than those in previous classes that had more students, the teacher said. So far this year, the class has studied the work of recent Nobel Prize-winning writer Octavio Paz and written thoughtful essays about the life of illegal immigrants, he said.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to do as well with a larger class,” said Finn, a former stockbroker.
But district officials say that the hiring mistake has so far cost at least $2 million--money the district must kick in that is not covered by state subsidies based on average size classes--and that the financially strapped school system cannot afford to keep any extra teachers.
District and teachers’ union officials earlier this week announced that they had agreed to jointly review each of the affected schools and decide how many teachers should be transferred. But district officials acknowledge that it will be difficult to persuade the school board to keep extra teachers at some schools if it means programs must be cut at other schools that need more teachers.
Besides losing the small classes, the proposed teacher reduction would also force Wilbur to give up its science lab, where students spend 45 minutes a week studying electricity and constructing simple circuits under the supervision of a science teacher. The lab teacher would be transferred to a regular classroom position if the school loses any teachers, school officials said.
Wilbur parents say they are especially angry because the district could easily have avoided the potential disruptions with proper planning. “The children should not have to pay for the mistakes of the school district,” parent Lainy Parlen said. “We do not want a reorganization here.”
The relatively affluent parents who live in the neighborhood south of Ventura Boulevard that surrounds Wilbur have become accustomed to winning such fights. In the past two years, they have put pressure on the school board to increase the number of Spanish-speaking teachers and aides to accommodate bused children, and later fought against the imposition of year-round classes.
As a result of these struggles, about 75 neighborhood children transferred to private schools this year, Principal Richard Hickcox said. If the seven teachers are transferred, all but five of the school’s 30 classrooms would have to be reorganized, he said.
Paul Greenwalt, a teacher for 29 years and union representative for Wilbur’s teachers, said teachers are upset about losing colleagues, some of whom have been teaching at the school for five years.
“This is going to blow things apart and cause problems,” Greenwalt said.
Students, who were told Wednesday that their teachers might be leaving, were also upset.
“I think it’s totally wrong,” said Melanie Kessler, a fifth-grade student.