No one is more aware of the practical problems posed by Gov. Pete Wilson's ambitious plan to downsize classes than Rosario Zazueta, a teacher's aide who sweats all summer and shivers all winter inside a metal storage bin parked on the playground of Miles Avenue Elementary School in Huntington Park.
Zazueta dispenses supplies from her storage bin post because every inch of space inside the 2,400-student school, the largest elementary in the state, is used for classrooms. And to take full advantage of Wilson's offer, the school would have to do the impossible and somehow carve space for 13 more rooms.
Miles Avenue already funnels three streams of students a year through its crowded halls. Lunch begins in late morning and lasts for two hours before every child is fed.
"Oh, it would be wonderful," said first-grade teacher Marjorie Sutton, who gasped when told of Wilson's vow to provide the money to shrink every first- and second-grade class to 20 students per teacher. "But where would we put the extra bodies?"
Teachers, parents and school officials across California--some stunned by the turn of fortune, others skeptical--are dusting off their wish lists in the wake of Wilson's pledge to deliver a major infusion of cash to public schools. In addition to about $467 million to shrink class size in the lowest grades, Wilson wants to pay for the reinvention of reading instruction, upgrade libraries and computers, repair rundown classrooms and give every public school a $50,000 grant to use in almost any manner it wishes--except to hire staff or give raises.
The total size of the package is about $1.7 billion, and although the Legislature must approve the specifics of the spending plan, teachers were mostly grateful that the era of belt-tightening--many would argue neglect--may be ending.
"I think it's fantastic that we're getting the money from the state, because there are all kinds of things to buy," said Alison Boaz, a fourth-grade teacher at Paul Revere Elementary School in Anaheim.
On Tuesday, Boaz's class learned about the life cycles of silkworms using live silkworms. Even though the worms cost only 39 cents apiece, Boaz had to pay for them herself--as well as for the 50 well-worn reading books that her students use.
"We could definitely use more funds for science, because students need to look at live things, not just pictures in a book," she said.
Almost no one believes that the additional funds--which would take California's per pupil spending from about 40th in the nation to near the national average--will transform the quality of education in the state overnight. But teachers and school officials hope that, in many cases, it will be enough to relieve the most outrageous shortages or remove the most nagging problems.
Many schools covet being able to invest in computer technology, which has become an integral part of teaching at many campuses, but remains nonexistent at many others, especially at cash-poor urban schools.
Revere has 17 computers in its lab, forcing students to share, and only one of the machines is equipped with a CD-ROM drive that accommodates the latest interactive software.
"I wish the kids could each have their own computer to use when they go to the lab," said Boaz, whose students get 15 minutes a week to work on the computer. "There's also so much new technology, but we can't utilize it."
During the hot weather months of May and June, teachers at Anatola Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys bring fans and air-conditioners from their homes to cool off their classrooms so the students can concentrate, Principal Kiyo Fukumoto said.
"Sometimes we have to send students to the auditorium during lunch hour because that's the coolest place," Fukumoto said.
An extra $50,000 could let the school begin installing air-conditioning, he said.
Space is the issue for the century-old, 34-student, one-room Santa Clara Elementary School in rural Ventura County. Designated as a historical building, the school cannot be expanded, so students study in a large closet, the entrance hall, the porch and even a tiny kitchen.
"When the band is practicing, the other students have to be outside," said teacher and principal Ruth Metcalf. "That's not practical when it's raining."
The school would use its $50,000 grant to buy a portable classroom, in effect doubling its size.
A far less dramatic impact is expected at Belmont High School near downtown Los Angeles, which is among the largest high schools in the nation with 4,700 students.
The school has a $15-million budget, $2 million of which comes as special aid from various state, federal and private funds. Much of that extra money is aimed at improving services for poor students or those not fluent in English. It would take almost the entire $50,000 to buy new ninth-grade math texts for the entire school.
Other parts of the Wilson plan would help pay for sprucing up classrooms and buying new library books, but the school would remain crowded.