Parents slam overcrowding

Taking advantage of a visit by the superintendent of schools, about 150 La Cañada Unified School District parents crammed into the Palm Crest Elementary School multi-purpose room Wednesday to air their concerns about over-crowded classrooms.

Supt. Jim Stratton was invited by the school's PTA to give a state-of-the-district address at its monthly meeting. At the conclusion of his talk, parents asked where the district is headed with rising class sizes. They also called upon each other to take action and donate their time and money to help save the district.

Craig Mazin, a Palm Crest parent and La Cañada Flintridge Educational Foundation representative, said so many parents turned out for the meeting because they are upset about the increase in class sizes and are motivated to bring them back down.

The district has been planning its budget on the assumption that class sizes in kindergarten through third grade will remain at 22 or 23 students, which is currently the average class size, except for first grade, where there are 24 to 25 students per classroom, Stratton said.

"Moving forward, we would like to bring that down to 22 or 23, but speaking to you honestly, I don't see any way we are going to be able to get below 22 or 23 in the near future without some additional revenue," Stratton said.

An average class size of 22 or 23 students is still among the lowest in California, although it's high for La Cañada, Stratton said. Parents, however, said they wanted to see even smaller classes.

"There is a huge change in the dynamic of a class of 19 or 20 as opposed to a class of 24 or 25," said Palm Crest parent Debbie Pitts. "It becomes more about crowd control and less about teaching. From my perspective, it's unfair to our kids."

La Cañada school-board President Jeanne Broberg riled Mazin when she said that 20 years ago, her children were in classes of 30 students and they turned out just fine.

"The last thing we need to hear is that class sizes used to be 30 but everyone was fine. It implies that we should just be happy with what we get, but we're not happy with what we got," said Mazin to a round of applause from parents in attendance.

Although LCUSD has done an "amazing job" getting where it is, it isn't good enough, Mazin said. If an alarm is sounded by the district, he believes the community of La Cañada will come to the rescue.

"I know there is concern from some on the school-board level that if we hit the panic button too hard, we will scare some parents out of the district," Mazin said. "I am not scared by what's going on, but this town has an industry, and it's the schools. If we lose the schools, it's the same as a factory town losing a factory. We have to maintain what we have."

Mazin said the culture of giving in La Cañada will change (half of La Cañada Unified parents donate the dollar a day asked for by the Foundation) if La Cañada Unified communicates what it needs and how severe the situation is.

The district would need to hire one teacher per grade level (excluding kindergarten) at each elementary school to lower class sizes. In order to do so, the district would need $2.2 million from the Foundation annually. It generally receives half of that.

Many parents said money won't be the savior of the district; parents need to give their time as well.

"We can't afford to sit around and bitch about all these problems," said Palm Crest parent and volunteer Crista Murray. "We've got to move forward and get out there and volunteer at the schools."

John Peterson, another Palm Crest parent, said people need to start attending school-board meetings and voice what bothers them and fight for the solution.

"We need to make sure we continue this as a great school district," Peterson said. "That's why we are here, we don't want it to be like every other school district. We want it to be the best. If we don't act now, it's going to be too stinking late. You have to write checks and you have to get involved."

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