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Class size reduction may return

William Ferchland
William Ferchland / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Second-grade teacher Linda Loughrin, top, has a classroom of 32 students at Bijou Community School compared to 20 pupils last year. Any return of class-size reduction would be appreciated, she said, to help focus on educational needs of students and to strengthen parent relations.
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Linda Loughrin sometimes feels her job is more about crowd control than teaching. With a class of 32 second-graders at Bijou Community School, she also plays a consistent game of catch-up.

“There’s a lot more behavior management with 32 students and there’s a lot less time with individual instruction,” she said.

The return next school year of some form of class-size reduction, which limits the number of students in a classroom at 20 and was included in last year’s budget cuts, will be discussed and mulled over tonight by Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education.



Two options will be presented by Assistant Superintendent Barbara Davis for first and second grade. State law mandates districts that consider implementing class-size reduction begin with first grade, then second, then either kindergarten or third grade.

A final decision is not expected tonight.



Both financial and space constraints hinder the full return of class-size reduction for the two primary grade levels.

Based solely on space issues, either all first-grade classes can go back to a 20-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio or both first and second grade can have benefit from half a program.

At the minimum, three teachers would be hired – one for each elementary school – if a half-day program was picked.

“We think that’s a step in the right direction,” said Carol Murdock, president of South Tahoe Educators Association. “We hope they explore all possibilities.”

The first option is the full return of the program, at a district cost of $78,366 for first grade.

The second option, at a price tag of $55,540 for each grade, is having class-size reduction for half a day. In essence, each instructor would send 10 or less students to a different teacher during the language arts and math portion of the day.

The split would decease the number of students in each classroom to focus on those two subjects, which are main components on standardized tests.

The program is partially funded by the state.

Chief Financial Officer Michael Curran said the district has money made possible by past savings and cuts. In addition, this year’s budget prepared by the previous financial officer provided some monetary wiggle room.

“Normally if you do your budgeting right that happens,” he said.

Curran was hesitant to say how much is available but said finances remain tight.

Financial deficits forced the board to cut the $240,000 or so from the district’s fund that paid for class-size reduction from kindergarten to third grade. Since the programs introduction in 1996, this is the first school year it has been absent.

“We of course never wanted to eliminate class-size reduction,” said Wendy David, the board’s president.

“We know small class size is preferable, especially for our younger students,” she added.

Not only would smaller classes allow teachers to focus on instruction and individual students, but morale could improve with the rehiring of teachers released in budget cuts.

Loughrin would appreciate any alleviation from the 32 students she has in her classroom.

“At second grade they’re still learning to read and learning to read is a very individual, time intensive and teacher intensive process and with 32 students it’s hard to be aware where every student is in their reading progress,” Loughrin said.

On Monday she kept her head on a swivel, keeping tabs on students in the rug in front of her, the desk behind her and at the nearby computer station.

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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