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Summer Learning Takes a Hit From Budget Cuts

Remedial courses are mostly unaffected, but enrichment classes get larger -- or close.

August 06, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

Kyle Dubin has spent part of his summer vacation in the very place he might otherwise want to avoid until the fall: a classroom at Rosemont Middle School in La Crescenta.

For three hours each day, he has learned how to do research and organize his time as part of a study skills class in Rosemont's summer school program.

Taking classes over the summer gave him "something to do," said the soon-to-be seventh-grader. And though his mother pushed him to take study skills, he had hoped to take a math class too, in part to get a jump on algebra.

But he was turned away from the algebra class -- "because of the budget cuts," the 12-year-old said.

Traditionally, there have been two kinds of summer school courses, both of which have been mostly free to students in the state's public schools.

Remedial classes, usually mandated to keep struggling students from falling behind or having to repeat key subjects, have not been affected much by state budget cuts.

But enrichment classes, which allow students to take extra classes over the summer in anticipation of a busy regular school year, or to get ahead in subjects such as science and math, are feeling the brunt of the cuts. Class sizes around the state have gotten bigger. Some courses have been eliminated.

In the Glendale Unified School District, which includes Rosemont, the number of students in most summer enrichment classes has risen to almost 40 per class, from the low to mid 30s last year. If enrollment wasn't very strong, classes were consolidated or dropped, said Mary McKee, assistant superintendent of education services. Some students even had to move from one campus to another in the middle of the summer term.

Rosemont had to turn away 200 students -- "more than usual" -- from its enrichment classes, said Principal Sally T. Buckley.

On a recent day at Rosemont, a group of incoming seventh-graders took a reading comprehension quiz in an English classroom. They scribbled away, filling in the blanks with words or phrases, as a teacher looked on. This year, just one section of the English enrichment course was offered instead of the usual two.

"We were saying, don't count on baby-sitting," Buckley said. "Summer school doesn't look like it did when we were kids."

In Orange County, the Santa Ana Unified School District cut the number of middle and high school enrichment classes by 20% to 30% this summer. At the elementary level, two out of three such classes were eliminated.

"Our elementary schools are generally teeming with kids during the summer," said Pat Machado, who works in area administration for the Santa Ana district. This year, "It's not so."

State funding for summer school and other supplemental programs was cut in the new state budget from $450 million last year to $352 million, in part by lowering caps on enrollments the state will fund. The Glendale district, for example, anticipates at least $400,000 -- or about 13% -- less in state reimbursement for summer school programs than it received last year.

Because the state budget was not passed until near the end of most schools' summer terms, many districts had to make tough choices early. In some cases, they wound up cutting enrichment classes more than they would have if state spending had been decided sooner.

"They had to prioritize," said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn. "I think this is a phenomenon that is being repeated in almost every community."

Pasadena Unified consolidated its courses onto 18 instead of 25 campuses to save overhead, administrative and transportation costs. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was ready to cancel its elementary programs until the city of Santa Monica offered $250,000 in extra funding to keep the classes going.

Many districts already are worried that next summer will bring further reductions.

Adding to many districts' summer problems, the cancellation last month of next year's high-stakes, high school exit exam meant a high dropout rate midway through summer classes for students who had been at risk of failing the test.

"The kids read the newspapers," said Glendale's McKee, "and they said, 'Hey, I am not going to have to pass this test. I am out of here.' " The district then had to consolidate those classes.

Santa Ana High School teacher Emil Barham said the biggest challenge of the summer had nothing to do with budget cuts. Barham, chairman of the mathematics department, said he had struggled most to find qualified teachers.

"Math is tough during the regular year," Barham said. "In the summer it's even harder, because teachers want their summer vacation."

Summer enrichment programs that rely on parent-paid tuition have been largely unaffected. Such districts -- including South Pasadena, Beverly Hills and La Canada-Flintridge -- charge $100 to $400 per class and administer their programs through local colleges, nonprofits or their own educational foundations.

But at Rosemont in the Glendale district, adult concerns about finances didn't seem to bother Shelby Denton, 12. The talkative incoming seventh-grader is enrolled in two summer school courses, in part because her parents work during the day. She took math and an industrial technology class in which she built a rocket with construction paper and tissues and designed a home interior on a computer.

"It was fun," she said, but then admitted a secret, with a bit of a whisper: "I kind of want to go to the beach next summer."

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