Pay cuts discussed in class-size reduction |

Pay cuts discussed in class-size reduction

William Ferchland

For the majority of California school districts, finding an extra $240,000 is a difficult task.

It’s the amount Lake Tahoe Unified School District pays for class-size reduction, a program that will be eliminated for cost-cutting purposes unless casual efforts to find money are embraced by various groups.

The program, which is primarily funded by the state, caps the number of students from kindergarten to third-grade at 20.

In recent weeks several teachers and parents have called for a staff salary freeze or a temporary pay cut. One elementary teacher circulated a petition among her colleagues asking if they would be willing to take a pay reduction to save the program.

Bridey Heidel, a South Tahoe High School teacher, wanted to have a discussion on the topic with other instructors.

“I don’t know if I was willing to take the pay cut but I was willing to have a discussion on options,” she said.

The rumors and ideas from teachers prompted Carol Murdock, president of the teachers’ union, to notify members that trying to gather support or put out feelers for a pay cut was in violation of the union’s bylaws.

“We follow our contract and bylaws,” she said at a school board meeting.

“Without you, education would not happen. But, in order for us to maintain a quality program and quality teachers, we must work together,” she wrote in a letter. “If we divide our organization and circumvent the rules and regulations set down for our bargaining unit, we will succumb to the whims and caprices of a community and school board who let their wallets and politics dictate the way they think and act.”

Joy Rothschild, chief negotiator of the support staff union, declined comment, except to say “We don’t negotiate in the media.”

Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn said she has not seen a formal plan to scrape up the district’s share of $240,000. If the amount is somehow obtained, the state would supply $1.3 million. The bulk of the money pays the salaries of about two dozen teachers who won’t return to their jobs next school year.

Class-size reduction could be instituted by having two teachers in one classroom or roving teachers who act as aides. A practical deadline of whether the program would be reinstated for next school year is July 1, Scheerhorn said, adding that she hasn’t formally discussed the issue with other district officials.

Some parents are concerned with inflated class sizes and overcrowding at the three elementary schools. Jim Weinberg called for the program’s return by citing Bijou Community School Principal Jim Watson’s November plan for a temporary staff pay cut.

“Without short-term ability to save (class-size reduction) the long-term prognosis does not look good to me,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg cited an Associated Press story about thousands of teachers in Santa Ana School District taking a 4 percent reduction in pay for two years. Some 3,000 Orange County teachers have agreed to reduce their salaries by 4 percent over the next two years to help avoid layoffs and larger class sizes in their financially strapped Santa Ana Unified School District.

Studies on the benefits of class-size reduction have been mixed. Some adults who were in primary school before the implementation of the program in 1996 have said their education was unaffected by large class sizes.

In her letter, Murdock believed teachers should not pay for something the community didn’t support since Measure L, a $60 parcel tax to fund education in the district, was defeated last month.

“Do firemen pay for fire trucks, policemen for patrol cars, dealers for new card tables?” she wrote.

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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