Crowd cries out against class sizes

Overcrowding — of more than one kind — was the theme at the Ocean View School District’s board meeting Tuesday, as dozens of people came to protest larger class sizes while district leaders pleaded for the crowd to thin so the meeting could take place.

As the clock ticked past 7 p.m., an overflow audience of teachers, parents and students crammed the boardroom and spilled out into the adjoining rooms of the district headquarters. The visitors, some of whom circulated petitions and brought signs and balloons with slogans, showed up in response to the board’s May 1 vote to increase class sizes in the lower grades.

Starting this fall, student-to-teacher ratios in kindergarten through third grade will increase from 24-to-1 to 29-to-1 to help fill a state budget shortfall. The district adopted the current ratio three years ago after having limited classes to 20 students.

The meeting Tuesday was impassioned, as speakers took the microphone for nearly two hours to urge the board to reconsider its vote. For a while, though, it looked as if a meeting might not take place at all.

With the standing-room-only crowd exceeding the allowed capacity of 180 for the boardroom, Assistant Supt. of Administrative Services Mark Schiel and board President Tracy Pellman asked some people to leave so the meeting could legally begin. Minutes later, district officials called the Fire Department to keep an eye on the crowd for safety purposes.

Enough audience members stepped outside for the meeting to begin around 7:15, but those in the hall made their presence felt throughout the night, often cheering speakers’ comments or interjecting their own.

Not a single speaker voiced support for the larger class sizes, which they said would cut into students’ personal interaction time with teachers, make classroom management harder and pose problems for special-needs students.

Several speakers threatened to vote against the trustees when they came up for reelection if they did not rescind their vote.

“Our children are the clients that the Ocean View School District should be serving, and we parents are the voters,” said Gina Clayton-Tarvin, the mother of a first-grader at Hope View Elementary School.

District officials said they shared the community’s concerns but were forced to do the best they could with dwindling state resources. Trustee Norm Westwell went so far as to praise the speakers for their passion and urged them to direct their anger to the north.

“The problem is up in Sacramento,” he said. “The money is up in Sacramento, and we can only apportion it as we’re allowed by law.”

In a presentation after the public comments, Schiel laid out numbers showing that even in the best-case scenario, the district would suffer a $2.2-million shortfall in the coming school year. Increasing the class sizes would save $1.3 million.

In response to comments that Ocean View should find other ways to trim expenses, Schiel said the district has already made heavy cuts across the board in recent years.

Supt. William Loose said before the meeting that he sympathized with those who want to keep class sizes at the current level. He noted, though, that the difference wouldn’t likely show up on report cards.

“I think the educational research about class-size reduction wouldn’t indicate that from an education point of view, statistically, it makes a big difference,” Loose said. “But from a teacher’s point of view, having five additional students gives them a little less time with each student.”

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB