CARLSBAD — A waiver brought forth during the Carlsbad Unified School District (CUSD) Board’s April 17 meeting sparked teacher and parent frustration over class sizes that surpass the state’s maximum student to teacher ratios. Unanimously approved by the Board on Wednesday, the waiver allows the district to be excused from about $650,000 in state penalties for having kindergarten through eighth grade class size averages above state maximums.
The waiver itself only addressed the state penalty, and class sizes would remain above state maximums regardless, due to budgetary constraints throughout the district, explained CUSD Deputy Superintendent of Business Services Suzanne O’Connell.
The CUSD Board decided to raise class sizes over the past several years, a decision which still applies to the current school year and the next.
Although the item did not directly establish the swollen class sizes permitted within the district, teachers and parents used the issue as an opportunity to remind the Board of their dismay.
One Poinsettia Elementary teacher was brought to tears outside of the meeting when she spoke about being unable to give enough attention to her students.
“It’s just this flurry of students, and I’m not meeting their emotional needs,” she said. She declined to give her name out of concern for her job.
The state Education Code allows maximum class averages of 31 students for kindergarten, 30 students for first through eighth grades.
In the district this year, kindergarten and first grade classes have an average of 30 students, second and third grades have 32 students on average, and fourth through eighth grades have an average of 29 students, according to CUSD data.
Class sizes for next year have not yet been determined.
Yet because class sizes vary from school to school based on enrollment and staffing, a number of classes have more students than the district-wide averages.
“These averages are so frustrating because the class sizes vary,” said the Poinsettia Elementary teacher, whose third grade class has 33 students.
Claudine Jones told the Board that her daughter’s second grade class has 34 students and is chaotic.
“(My daughter) comes home regularly and says she can’t learn,” said Jones. “I think we need to look at dropping the class sizes for all of our kids.”
“Large class sizes hurts students, they certainly get less individual attention,” said Carlsbad High School math teacher Keith Glazer before the Board. “The burden (for teachers) has become greater each year.”
Glazer as well as the Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association President Sally Estep pressed the Board to delay the opening of CUSD’s new high school to save funds that could be spent at other schools. The Board dismissed this option months ago.
O’Connell said that the CUSD Board determined to raise class sizes due to significant budget cuts over the years.
“No one would deny the fact that class sizes are too large,” she said.
But she added that increasing class sizes was a necessary decision due to financial restraints.
This year, the district is operating with a 22 percent deficit funding, according to O’Connell.
“We were facing a pretty dire situation this time a year ago, and so the decision to increase class sizes did obviously not come lightly, but came in conjunction with multiple reductions,” she said about the Board’s most recent class size decision in spring 2012.
O’Connell said that with the state’s education budget still undecided, there is no telling when schools will receive full funding again, and as such there is no way of knowing when CUSD will be able to return to normal class sizes.