Area Educators Hail Wilson's Plan Extending Oxnard's Academic Year

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Area educators rejoiced Thursday over Gov. Pete Wilson's decision to fund an extension of Oxnard's academic year and to further expand the popular class-size-reduction program.

Wilson's preliminary budget proposal includes a $3.9-million increase for the Oxnard Unified School District to extend the academic year for all 13,000 high school students by eight days. The increase follows a $1.7-million package passed last year that extended the school year by seven days.

Beginning in August, the academic year for all high school students will be increased from 187 to 195 days.

"If we can provide more time for teachers to teach and students to learn, we're going to have better-prepared students who are ready to face the challenges of work and college," Oxnard school district Supt. Bill Studt said. "Over four years, those 15 days will add up to almost an extra semester of course study."

Assemblyman Nao Takasugi (R-Oxnard), who lobbied for the extra money, agreed.

"We were very worried that kids are failing in math and science and are not ready for college," he said. "Perhaps this will give us a priceless opportunity to help these kids achieve a higher education."

Teachers' union President Darrell Larkin also voiced support for the plan, despite having opposed such a move in the past. Larkin earlier had called for wiser use of class time, rather than extending the school year.

"We're going to work with the district to make sure those extra days are used wisely and aren't wasted," he said.

In addition to the school year extension, Wilson announced his intention to add $488 million to expand the popular class-size reduction program.

Now, school districts can cut class size in the first and second grades, along with either kindergarten or third grade.

Wilson's new vision is to allow districts to pare class sizes in grades one through three and then choose between reducing kindergarten or fourth-grade classes.

"It's kind of a blessing and an added set of problems for schools here," county schools Supt. Charles Weis said.

While smaller classes are immensely popular, Weis said, larger school districts say they have scant space and money to expand the program, which requires a hefty expenditure of district matching funds.

The governor's preliminary budget announcement begins a six-month process of public hearings and countless hours of public and private negotiations aimed at hammering out a final budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The constitutional deadline for completing that process is June 15.

Times staff writer Kate Folmar contributed to this story.

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