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Smaller Class Sizes Cost Parents Time in Transit

Education: Staggered schedules mean some families must make many trips to get children to school and back.

September 07, 1996

It's 7:30 a.m. and Vicky Bayani is shuffling her way through a throng of parents at Jane Addams Elementary School in North Long Beach, where she drops off her third-grade son.

She then walks to a nearby preschool and deposits her 4-year-old son at the 8 a.m class. At 10 a.m., she's back at Jane Addams--this time dropping off her third boy, a second-grader. An hour later, she picks up the preschooler and goes home to rest up for the afternoon round, collecting one son at 1:32 and the other at 3:52.

By the end of the day--after walking several miles in the hot sun--Bayani is exhausted. "It's horrible," she says. "All day long, it's back and forth, back and forth."

Whether on foot like Bayani or behind the wheel of a kid-packed minivan, many mothers, fathers and day-care providers found themselves playing a tricky game of beat-the-clock this first week of school as they dealt with "staggered schedules"--the unexpected downside of efforts to reduce class size as part of California's sweeping education reform.

While chaotic schedules are nothing new, staggering start times to accommodate more and smaller classes is the latest morning hardship for parents, along with spilled cereal and tangled hair.

Carpoolers found themselves making up to six trips to and from school each day, and working parents painfully made adjustments to their own schedules and balanced day-care arrangements.

Some parents quipped that they should just park their motor homes in front of the school.

"It is hectic," said father Michael Tipton, who is responsible for chauffeuring several youngsters to Jane Addams Elementary School.

The push for smaller classes began two months ago, when the state Legislature approved a plan to give school districts at least $19,500 for each class that is shrunk to 20 students, starting with kindergarten and the first three grades.

To accomplish this, school officials hired new teachers and rejiggered class times to accommodate more sessions in overcrowded schools. In the Long Beach Unified School District, for example, several elementary schools opted to stagger the starting time of their first- and second-grade classes.

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said they have given individual schools the same option, but they won't know for a few weeks how many schools split their schedules. No county or statewide numbers are available.

At Jane Addams, administrators anticipated that some parents would be inconvenienced, and quickly went to work to try to find solutions. On Friday afternoon, officials sent a letter to parents seeking volunteers to swap classes with the children of put-out parents.

Bayani, a part-time dental assistant, said she took a few days off work to figure out how to manage the new timetable. She is in the hard-hit category, with three children in the grades targeted for smaller class sizes.

Last year, she could simply drop off her children at the same time in the morning and pick them up on her way home from work in early afternoon. With the new schedule, she worries she might lose her job.

"I can't take off work three times a day," she said. "I know that a quality education is important. But food on the table is No. 1. You have to work or you can't eat."

It's a concern shared by Angela Johnson, a working single mother. "The classes will be smaller and I'm grateful for that," said Johnson, who drops off one child at 7:30 a.m. and another at 11:30 a.m. "But if I have to hire day care in the morning, it's just going to cost me more money. When you're on a budget, it really hurts."

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