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Statement: “If San Diego Unified goes through with the 1,600 layoffs of teachers, we’re going to have class sizes approaching 50,” Congressman Bob Filner said during a May 16 mayoral debate hosted by AM 600 KOGO.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: The financial pains at city schools have been a constant theme along the campaign trail for mayor, and we’ve written at length about the candidates’ plans to improve the situation if voters elect them.

Filner highlights his former positions as a San Diego Unified school board president and a San Diego State University professor. He argues that he knows education issues better than his rivals and he would be better qualified to aid the district as mayor.

During a debate hosted by KOGO last week, Filner described the possible shock of San Diego Unified’s financial woes. At the time, the school board had approved sending 1,656 layoff notices to district employees.

“If San Diego Unified goes through with the 1,600 layoffs of teachers, we’re going to have class sizes approaching 50,” Filner said. “That’s just wrong. The teachers can’t teach. The children can’t learn, and we got to get adequate funding.”

Filner cited a similar figure during a May 14 interview with KPBS. Again talking about the layoff notices at San Diego Unified, he said, “We may have class sizes go up to 50.”

We decided to Fact Check Filner’s estimate because it sounded like a drastic increase.

The graphic below illustrates the size of average classes at various grade levels today and how they would grow following the layoffs, according to San Diego Unified’s estimates. No new average would come close to Filner’s mark.

Though no average class size would near 50 students, district spokesman Bernie Rhinerson said some extracurricular classes — such as gym, band and choir — could reach that size in middle schools and high schools. Some classes now have 40 or more students, he said.

Rhinerson said the district won’t know for sure whether any class reaches 50 until teacher assignments are finalized before the start of the school year.

“It may be possible,” Rhinerson said. “It’s not like every class would be that large. It would be the exception, not the norm.”

Filner’s description might be true, but it likely represents an inflated portrayal of how layoffs could affect class sizes across the district. For those reasons, we’ve rated the statement Barely True.

Our definition for the category says the statement contains an element of truth but critical context is missing that may significantly alter the impression it leaves.

In this case, Filner said class sizes could reach 50 and Rhinerson backs up that possibility. However, in most cases, district officials expect classes would not nearly reach that mark. And it would only be true in the case of extracurricular classes, not core ones.

At one extreme, Filner’s claim suggests the number of kids in elementary classrooms would double following the layoffs. District officials don’t expect that would happen. In many classrooms, the number of students would fall 20 or more short of Filner’s description.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

One side note: We provided Filner’s campaign the school district’s numbers early last week and asked for comment. The campaign did not respond.

But on Friday, during a debate hosted by KUSI, Filner modified his claim so it falls closer to San Diego Unified’s numbers. He said, “Class sizes are going to go up to 40 or 50.”

It’s also worth noting that a court ruling reduced the number of layoff notices to 1,534, and the school board finalized issuing them last week as part of its plan to close a $122 million budget gap next year. About 1,400 teachers — one in five across the district — will receive notices.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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