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Hasta la vista, smaller classes

Final state budget cuts bury class-size reduction

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POSTED June 4, 2009 2:01 a.m.
Saving class size reduction is a dead issue.

It’s been buried under an avalanche of May cutbacks in state funding that swelled the deficit for Manteca Unified 2009-10 school years to $32,775,000.

There are parents who are still pushing hard to keep lower class sizes even though the writing is on the wall with 209 teachers getting final layoff notices and more cuts dictated by new state decisions on how much Manteca Unified will share in the pain of keeping the State of California from drowning in red ink.

“This is real,” Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer said of the district’s $32.7 million deficit. “This is not fiction.”

Messer said state leaders from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on down got the message loud and clear on May 19 that voters want California to live within its means.

“We are going to educate children in Manteca for less money,” Messer said. “It will have a negative impact on student achievement. It will have a negative impact on classroom size. It will have a negative impact on staff.”

The bottom line, Messer said, is Manteca will be educating children for less money. That means fewer teachers, less support staff, and less educational services such as closed libraries and more.

Manteca Unified – and many other districts – are being forced to jettison class-size reduction due to the loss of more and more state money.

Ironically, the state may be forcing districts to cut their way into state imposed penalties.

One example is a law adopted in 1963 that prohibits school districts from exceeding class-size averages that existed in the fourth through eighth grades that year which was 29.4 students to one teacher.

The penalty for exceeding that is $662,000.

It could force districts trying to stay afloat and keep as many classroom programs intact as possible to cut even farther. Such a penalty could translate into the loss of another eight teachers and send class size ratios upon even higher.

Messer stressed that nobody likes what the district is going through – not the students. not the teachers, not the school board, not the administration, and not the parents.

He noted the board has taken its job extremely seriously which is keeping the doors open and to get the maximum benefit out of what dollars the district has left.

“They (the board) have been right on top of things,” Messer said. “They’ve been 7-0 when it counts.”

Messer praised his bosses for immersing themselves in tons of paperwork, responding to e-mails from the community, talking with parents and voters when they are stopped in stores and doing independent research to make sure they are making the right decisions.

“A lot of people will accuse the board of not listening because they simply don’t vote the way they want them to,” Messer said.

Messer said the board does listen but they are being tempered by economic realities.

“We’ve got to keep the doors open,” Messer said.

As for criticism that cuts are hitting he classroom after the board indicated back in December that everything should be done to prevent that from happening., Messer points out that was when Manteca Unified was dealing with a $14 million deficit and not $32.7 million.

Almost 85 percent of every dollar spent goes to employee salary and benefit costs.
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