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EDUCATION / SMART RESOURCES FOR STUDENTS AND PARENTS

Smaller-Class Funds Headed to Schools

May 05, 1999|CHRISTINE CASTRO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that it will give more than $7 million to Orange County public schools next year to reduce class sizes, as part of a $12-billion national program.

But for a state and county that already has poured several million dollars into its efforts, school administrators are not quite ready to celebrate.

"We haven't seen anything in writing yet to see how that would translate here," said Pat Pulio, assistant superintendent for instructional services at the Fullerton Elementary School District.

The $12-billion initiative aims, over the next seven years, to help school districts nationwide hire and train 100,000 new teachers to reduce class sizes to a national average of 18 in grades 1 through 3.

At least 85% of the money must be used to recruit, hire and train teachers, according to the initiative guidelines. The remaining 15% can be used toward teachers' professional development. Distribution of money is based 80% on poverty levels and 20% on school enrollment.

But many school officials in Orange County and elsewhere in California say that the state needs more flexibility in how it spends the money.

California schools already have reduced their class sizes to 20 students in grades 1 through 3, and reducing by two fewer students may not make much of a difference, said Keric Ashley, the coordinator of the class-size reduction program at the state Department of Education. Instead, he said, many districts would like to look at extending class-size reduction to higher grades, and providing more training for the many teachers who were quickly hired on emergency credentials.

"If we get flexibility [in how to spend the funds], then districts can use that money to support some of the thousands of teachers who have struggled through those first years," Ashley said.

Federal officials seem interested in at least talking about such possibilities.

"California has done some great work," said Catherine Schagh, director of the nationwide class-size reduction program at the U.S. Department of Education. "They've made so much progress already [with their class-size reduction program]. And we want the two programs to work together."

Another benefit of the federal money is that the county's three high school districts can use the money to reduce student numbers in a particular grade level or class.

This would help district officials who could not afford to make use of the matching funds available last fall when the state afforded $78 million to slash class sizes for the ninth grade.

"We have been looking for ways that we can reduce class sizes, because they're very high," said Jan Mengels, special programs coordinator at the Huntington Beach Union High School District. The school district could receive $176,853.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

O.C. Estimates

These are the U.S. Department of Education estimates of how much it might contribute toward class-size reductions for Orange County school districts during the 1999 fiscal year.

Anaheim Elementary $448,633

Anaheim Union High School $465,066

Brea Olinda Unified $50,151

Buena Park Elementary $116,965

Capistrano Unified $359,464

Centralia Elementary $77,036

Cypress Elementary $64,147

Fountain Valley Elementary $63,463

Fullerton Elementary $229,482

Fullerton Joint Union High School $156,066

Garden Grove Unified $955,245

Huntington Beach City Elementary $75,674

Huntington Beach Union High School $176,853

Irvine Unified $191,811

La Habra City Elementary $107,479

Laguna Beach Unified $32,185

Los Alamitos Unified $61,434

Lowell Joint Elementary $38,756

Magnolia Elementary $130,112

Newport-Mesa Unified $294,234

Ocean View Elementary $152,178

Orange Unified $432,469

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified $313,480

Saddleback Valley Unified $237,363

Santa Ana Unified $1,442,731

Savanna Elementary $41,155

Tustin Unified $167,969

Westminster Elementary $254,832

Source: U.S. Department of Education web site, http://www.ed.gov/offices/OESE/ClassSize/CSAllocation/99cs-ca.html

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