I wanted to highlight this fascinating entry by Theresa Quiroz about busing:

The need for busing is caused by the unbalanced nature of our neighborhoods. We have large areas of low-income and minority families, and large areas of white, wealthy families. The City of San Diego has a policy of balanced communities that requires that all of our communities are integrated. The School District has a similar policy. But the City policy is always ignored, while the School pays huge amounts of money to abide by theirs. So it is my simplistic opinion that the busing should be paid for by the City of San Diego. The only reason we need to bus children is because the City has not complied with its own policy of balanced communities. The schools should not be penalized for the poor planning decisions of the City.

Now that would be interesting. I had never heard about the city policy.

Another reader asked: How could the budget crisis impact class sizes?

There are no firm answers about how much money San Diego Unified will have to cut this year — the current guesstimate is $40 million — nor whether the state will decide to cut specific programs or just slice a percentage of general funding.

“We just simply don’t know,” Superintendent Terry Grier said to me, when asked about how budget cuts might take shape. “We are sitting here in the dark now, waiting for some kind of solution. … We are at the mercy of elected officials that just don’t seem to have much of a stomach for making hard decisions.”

So the short answer is I have no idea, and neither does anyone in San Diego Unified.

But I can tell you a little bit about the dynamics of class size. Let’s start with the basics. California gives schools money to spend money: It provides funding to help school districts create smaller classes by hiring more teachers. The program is called class size reduction, and it gives per-pupil money to keep classes small in specific grades (K-3 and 9.)

Whether that pencils out for school districts depends on how much they pay teachers and how large classes were before they got the state funding. A decade-old report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office mentioned that some school districts actually ended up forking over their own money to supplement the money from the state, but others reaped money by participating.

That is one of the complications that comes up when school districts weigh whether or not to give up class size reduction: They will have to spend less money, but they will get less money, too. Does that make sense for San Diego Unified? It depends on how much they are spending and how much they are getting to whittle class size.

That, frankly, is something that I don’t know right now, and the budget gurus at San Diego Unified are just starting a deserved holiday vacation. But I’ll keep an eye on it as we keep covering the budget crisis.

San Diego Unified mulled whether to give up class size reduction last year, but took the idea off the table because it meant bargaining with the teachers union: Class sizes are often part of teachers union contracts, which cannot be altered without negotiating with the union. Doing that usually takes time that cash-strapped school districts don’t have — especially as state lawmakers keep delaying their decisions on the budget crisis. And you might have noticed that the teachers union and school district leaders have not been on the best terms over the past year.

There is a basic, logical bottom line: Laying off teachers means making bigger classes because you have fewer teachers to teach (roughly) the same number of students, and not every grade is covered by the state class size reduction program.

But that brings up a whole different question: Does class size matter? A lot of people are trying to figure that out.

Thanks for sending me your questions, and my apologies for not answering them all! You’ve given me some interesting leads and some new questions to chase. Feel free to send me your ideas anytime.

EMILY ALPERT

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