Andrew Donohue and I are continuing the People’s Reporters this week to get to all the answers we didn’t finish last week on San Diego education.
Jeff Jordon, a police officer and union leader, had a very specific question for us via Twitter:
How many kids might be in my sons kindergarten class next year, what is the maximum allowable if any?
I called Bernie Rhinerson, chief of staff at the district, for an answer.
Rhinerson said the maximum number of students allowed in a kindergarten class, under the district’s current contract, is an average of 29.5 students. He said that translated to between 28 and 30 students per classroom.
Kindergarten class sizes at the district right now are much lower than that, however.
Most kindergarten classes are staffed at about 22 to 24 kids per teacher. Part of the reason kindergarten classes are always targeted when the district needs to make severe cuts is because there’s some wiggle room between what the district has now and what it can legally do, Rhinerson said.
That answers the second part of Jordon’s question, what the maximum allowable class size is, but what about the first part: How big are class sizes likely to be next year?
That depends largely on what happens in the next couple of months.
As we’ve explained, this summer the school board chose to spend an extra $25 million to keep class sizes in kindergarten, second and third grade at their current levels. But that money is now in jeopardy.
The state budget is set up so that if California fails to bring in billions of dollars in extra revenue, the state will have to make automatic midyear cuts to education in mid-December. That’s looking more and more likely to happen with every month that passes, since the state’s already some $700 million behind its projections. Teachers are protected this year from any layoffs.
For next year, San Diego Unified’s already facing a $60 million. None of the solutions the district has so far proposed to close that gap specifically target laying off teachers in kindergarten. But if the state makes the midyear cuts, that deficit jumps to as much as $115 million.
Facing that large of a deficit, the district would almost certainly have to lay off at least as many teachers as it saved last year, Rhinerson told me.
That would mean Jordon’s son’s class, rather than having 22 or 24 students in it, would more likely have 28 or 30 next year.
Bottom line: How crowded that classroom gets all depends on how much the district has to cut from its budget, and whether it decides to lay off hundreds of teachers to save money.
Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can reach him at email@example.com or 619.550.5670.
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