Board's Plan to Hire Teacher Aides Criticized : Simi Valley: District considers adding 10 people to help instructors in crowded classes. But some say that would only aggravate the problem.


After eliminating 24 teaching jobs last spring to balance the budget, the Simi Valley school board is considering hiring 10 teachers' aides to help overworked instructors in the district's most crowded classrooms.

The proposal has angered teachers and students in the Simi Valley Unified School District. They argue that it fails to address the problem of too many students in 78 of the district's junior high and high school classrooms.

At a board meeting Tuesday night, some teachers said placing inexperienced aides in crowded classes would only add to the problem because teachers would have to spend time giving them instruction.

"Aides come to us untrained," junior high school math teacher Susan Mussack told the board. "It is a Band-Aid and it is going to make things worse."

Under the proposal, 10 junior high and high school classes with more than 38 students would receive one hour of instructional aid per day, at a total daily cost of about $100.

Simi Valley Unified's contract with the teachers' union states that the district will make "every reasonable effort" to keep class size below 36 students.

While no elementary school classrooms are above the limit, district officials said 36 junior high and 42 high school classes have more than 36 students.

District officials have also recommended that classes for U.S. history, algebra and 12th-grade English be added at Royal High School. Under the proposal, the three classes would be taught by teachers who would earn extra money for working during their preparation periods.

The board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations at its Oct. 18 meeting. In the meantime, district officials are seeking responses from the teachers.

Educators at Tuesday night's meeting voiced frustration with the proposals. "We are not interested in aides in the classroom," said Ron Myren, president of the Simi Educators Assn. "We want lower class size."

But some board members said it is difficult to come up with money for more teachers in the face of dwindling state education funds.

"There is no easy solution," board member Judy Barry said.

Board member Debbie Sandland said the district should make cuts elsewhere to come with money for teachers.

"I think we should be hiring teachers--that is the simplest solution," Sandland said.

But with a deficit of about $3 million looming next school year, hiring more teachers would be too costly, district officials said.

"If we add more teachers, we would be right back where we were when we made these tough decisions," Supt. Mary Beth Wolford said. "This deficit has us in a dangerous position."

District officials said the crowding is due in part to the reduction of teaching positions last spring to balance the district's $77-million budget.

"We must acknowledge that classes are going to be larger if we have less teachers," Supt. Mary Beth Wolford said. "That was clearly pointed out when we made that decision."

But Peggy Noisette, a French teacher at Valley View Junior High School, said the decision was a mistake.

"They didn't need to cut 24 people last year," she said. "If they would have kept them, they would not have this problem."

Some students told board members the burgeoning class sizes create problems--such as a shortage of chairs in some classrooms.

"In one of my classes, if you are late, you sit on the floor," said student board representative Alecia Burlie, a senior at Royal High School enrolled in several crowed classes.

While required classes such as algebra and history are packed, some specialized upper-level courses have relatively few students enrolled this year.

Eleven junior high and high school classes have fewer than 22 students, officials said. Since many of those courses, such as advanced placement French and physics, are needed for college entrance requirements, the district does not intend to change those class sizes.

One course at Royal High School--world history--would be dissolved under the district's plan. Six students who need the class to graduate would have to complete the course through independent study or take it during summer school, officials said.

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