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The Valley

Move to Bigger Class Sizes to Get a Second Look

November 13, 2002|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Under fire for having classrooms with up to 50 students, the Los Angeles Board of Education agreed Tuesday to study the results of an earlier decision to increase class sizes and possibly reverse course.

"In light of overcrowding, I think the last thing we should have done was increase class size," said board member Jose Huizar, who proposed the class-size study.

The 60-day review will focus on reducing class sizes to an average of 37 students.

Reeling from state budget cuts, a divided school board voted in March to increase class sizes by two students in grades four through 12 to save $48 million, part of a $450-million budget cut package.

But many have criticized the move for making an already bad situation worse and for harming the quality of education.

Forty-two percent of the district's middle and high school academic classes now have 30 students or more.

At Tuesday's board meeting, about two dozen parents, teachers and students voiced their support for smaller classes.

"You've poisoned the educational environment," said Jay Gussin, a science teacher at Frost Middle School in Granada Hills.

Bryan Delgado, a seventh-grader at Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park, burst into tears when he told board members about crowding at his school.

But Supt. Roy Romer defended the class-size increase, saying it was the only way the 730,000-student district could afford a 3% pay increase negotiated with the teachers' union.

Romer also said the larger classes created 6,500 badly needed seats in the high schools and 11,500 in middle schools.

"We all need to take a dose of reality here," Romer said. "If we tie our hands too tightly in terms of expectation, you'll find you'll hurt other reforms in the district."

A reduction of class size largely depends upon the district's ability to hire more teachers and build schools, a challenge made more difficult by further cutbacks expected from the state next year, board members said.

But the district received a major boost last week when voters approved a $3.35-billion bond for school construction. The bond will pay for 80 new schools.

Until new high schools are completed in 2005, however, many schools will have to grapple with overcrowding.

United Teachers-Los Angeles President John Perez said larger class sizes could have been prevented if the district had managed its money better.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars has been spent on consultants and lawyers" and the new district headquarters downtown, Perez said.

"It's our position that class-size increases should never have been done," he said.

Also Tuesday, the board rescinded an unpopular plan to rebalance the number of teachers in the district by moving some to schools deemed more needy of instructors.

The plan has been criticized because of the disruption it would cause students if their teachers were reassigned.

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