May 9, 2003

Guest Commentary

The Children of Chula Vista Deserve Better

By Jill M. Galvez

Let’s pretend that you’re a developer and you’re going to build the most important 13-story building of your career. How would you build the foundation? That is the question being asked in school districts across our state as they anticipate budget cuts from the state this October.

The Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) has taken the bold initiative of raising kindergarten classes from 20 to 31 students per teacher. This will save our school district $1.5 million annually. Keep in mind that a state budget has not been passed yet, and if there are cuts, they won’t go into effect until April 2004. Please also acknowledge the fact that our school district has a $9.9 million reserve budget – almost three times the reserve that California state law requires.

Is CVESD letting the tail wag the dog by boldly cutting kindergarten funding in anticipation of what the state legislators might do?

The State of California’s Class Size Reduction (CSR) initiative was implemented in our district in 1998. Educators and state legislators believed that capping class sizes at 20 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade would have a positive impact on education. They knew that if a child isn’t a proficient reader by the time he is in third grade, chances are great that he will be a lifelong illiterate. The state pays for approximately 80% of the cost of CSR, but CSR is not a mandated program. Districts can participate at their discretion.

According to some teachers, CVESD was one of the last districts in San Diego County to implement CSR, and now, during times of budgetary uncertainty, CVESD appears to be at the forefront of trying to eliminate it.

In March, the rapidly growing CVESD issued layoff notices to 431 teachers. While those teachers were reevaluating their career choices, possibly focusing more on how to pay their mortgages this fall than on educating our children, many parents felt that the pink slips were simply a scare tactic, that CVESD was dealing from the bottom of the deck. In fact, CVESD continues to add new students and build new schools at an accelerated pace. CVESD district administrators were even recruiting new teachers this spring!

So, when the layoff notices were rescinded last week, SURPRISE! CVESD said that kindergarten class sizes needed to be raised from 20 to 31 students per teacher in order to keep our teachers employed. Right.

My baby finishes kindergarten this June. As his 29-year veteran teacher puts it, it has been a joy teaching a class of 20 students. My son and his classmates are all reading, and when CVESD rolls out kindergarten testing this month (you read correctly - TESTING), she is confident that they’ll all do well.

But his teacher is worried about her students for next year. “Twenty is a class, Thirty is a crowd, “ she says. “With twenty, you teach, with thirty, you fix problems.” Many of us are worried about the children in Chula Vista that will fall through the cracks. As it is, some kindergarten teachers have the most incredible challenges: previously undiagnosed sight and hearing problems, learning disabilities, language barriers (and not just Spanish), children that come to kindergarten with no prior socialization or exposure to reading, cutting, pasting, or following instructions, ... and they are expected to leave “no child behind” as those children are promoted to first grade.

So, what could the district have done? Has it fully evaluated offering early retirement to the more expensive veteran teachers? Has it begun talks with the Sweetwater Union High School District to see if unification would reduce expenses, now that San Ysidro has its own high school? Has it stopped sending out glossy brochures with fancy charts that discuss Chula Vista demographics? Have the administrators given back their 4% + 2.2% salary increases on their six-figure incomes? Has it gotten tougher with the developers who forecast 33 students per 100 homes built in Chula Vista when the actual numbers are closer to 45 per 100 homes? Has it looked at options 1 – 13 of the parent budget advisory committee’s recommendations for cutting costs or dismissed them entirely? Has it asked the community for help (we said yes to Prop BB, Prop J, and Prop 47)? Has it considered depleting the $9.9 million reserve budget for at least a couple of years to preserve CSR and invest in the children of Chula Vista?

I implore every person who has read this commentary to attend the next CVESD board meeting, write a letter, make a phone call, or send an email and let our school board know that the children of Chula Vista deserve better – at least what the children in most other districts in San Diego county are getting. Kindergarten is 25% of a child’s essential primary school education! Please do not raise kindergarten class sizes by more than 50%!

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