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Gov. Wilson's Plan to Reduce Class Sizes

July 14, 1996

* Re "Seize the Opportunity for Smaller Class Sizes," editorial, July 7: As you say, no one disagrees on the need to reduce class size. I feel your editorial was off-base, however, for criticizing those whose job it is to point out the gaping inequities in Gov. Pete Wilson's proposal. Let me provide you with a few facts about the 17 elementary schools in my district in the southeast area of Los Angeles. They are among the largest schools in the United States. All but three schools are already year-round. Unless you eliminate playgrounds, there's almost no space left on any of the school sites for more classrooms. Bell Gardens Elementary School already has 44 portables.

As proposed by Wilson, the class-size reduction program is an incentive program. You get the money only if you can move kids out of existing classes and find new teachers and new space to put them in. Catch-22 in the current legislation is that districts such as mine would be excluded from receiving any of the funds set aside for the construction of new space because we have no space. It is unreasonable to create a competition between crowded landlocked urban districts and more affluent districts with room to grow.

We will "seize the opportunity," as you say, because we must. To suggest that teachers unions and "others" are whiners for pointing out the problems with this legislation is misguided. Not to do so would be irresponsible.

MARTHA ESCUTIA

Assembly, D-Huntington Park

* Your editorial eloquently spells out the need for class-size reduction. It, however, mistakenly labels constructive criticism that's aimed at crafting a workable plan as "whining" and "complaining."

Too often, miracle solutions from Sacramento turn into quick-fix disasters in communities throughout the state when politics and PR mix to build false expectations. When these "reforms" fail, children suffer and public schools take the blame.

We had serious reservations about the governor's plan as it was originally proposed because we believed it could have led to larger class sizes in the upper grades. The budget compromise in Sacramento, however, gives schools the needed flexibility of initiating reforms more gradually. Schools could begin by cutting class sizes in first and second grades this coming year. The agreement would give local districts the option of waiting a year before finalizing plans to cut class sizes in kindergarten or third grade.

Local school districts are eager to devise creative strategies for reducing class sizes and improving instruction. In return, the state must agree to be flexible, if during the start-up phase of these reforms classes are conducted in the school gym or in other temporary locations.

REBECCA SARGENT

President, California School

Boards Assn., West Sacramento

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