Glendale class size proposal brings protests

Angst over how the state budget will impact Glendale Unified boiled over this week among parents concerned about a cost-saving proposal to increase class sizes for third-graders. But district administrators say the plan is only a preliminary effort that anticipates a worst-case scenario.

The preliminary budget includes a plan to raise the maximum third grade class size from 24 to 31 students as officials work to cut $6.5 million in spending from the district's roughly $180 million budget.

It's a plan that takes into account a number of variables that could change between now and when a new budget has to be adopted. Chief among those variables is the state budget, which is supposed to be finalized and approved June 15, just three days before Glendale Unified is to vote on its own spending plan.

But California's legislature is notorious for missing budget deadlines.

Without knowing whether a new education funding formula will be included in California's final budget, Glendale Unified Supt. Richard Sheehan said the district must plan for the worst and amend later if the state is unexpectedly generous.

"Unfortunately, we're waiting to see what happens with the state budget," he said. "This is a new funding formula … and even the so-called experts don't truly understand its impacts until it's enacted."

The new "local control" formula in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget would tie state funding more closely to student demographics.

Further complicating the issue, state penalties for class sizes that exceed 20 students create an incentive for school districts to confine increases to just one grade, rather than breaking the threshold across multiple grades. In Glendale's case, doing so with just the third grade would bring $1 million in savings, even after factoring in the state penalty, Sheehan said.

Still, the 10 parents who spoke at Tuesday's school board meeting said raising class sizes for third-graders enrolled in dual-language immersion programs at the Franklin and Thomas Edison elementary schools would be a disaster.

Wendy Rios, a 17-year employee at Edison whose son attends the school, said afterward that research has shown that third grade is an important year for students, especially for those handling two languages.

"It's a crucial year, as one parent stated, 'It's learning to read, versus reading to learn,'" she said.

Richard Awni, whose son is one of the dual-language Spanish immersion students at Edison, said the preliminary budget had weakened his trust in the district's commitment to the program.

"It's a big leap of faith to put your child in an immersion program, and to take that leap of faith, you have to trust the district," he said. "I did initially and now I'm not so sure."

School board member Greg Krikorian said that although class sizes were a priority, the state had to find a way to stretch its funding as far as possible.

"We have 12 grades and we're responsible for 26,000 students," he said. "With more adequate funding, these would be the least of our problems."


Follow Daniel Siegal on Google+ and on Twitter: @Daniel_Siegal.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World