This is part of my chain of posts about using the flexibility in the rules for the current Class Size Reduction reimbursement program to deal with a major budget crisis in WCCUSD that is both specific to WCCUSD andpart of the general State budget crisis. Here are three specific problems with implementing the scenarios proposed by staff for what I like to call Class-Size-Reduction Reduction:

  1. QEIA Schools
  2. The Current Teachers’ Contract
  3. The Parcel Tax “Contract”

 

QEIA Schools

QEIA (Quality Education Investment Act) is the product of a legal suit by the predominant State teachers union, the CTA, over our convoluted State school finance measure called “Prop. 98.” The settlement resolved that the schools were underpaid by a certain amount in 2 years. However, instead of just giving the money to school districts, a new categorical program was created. Schools apply for the grants. Of course, one of the main features of this program is to reduce class sizes.

WCCUSD has four elementary schools in this program. As part of the law (according to this ASCA report), reduced class sizes in K-3 to 20:1 have to remain in place, so no across-the-board increase in K-3 class sizes can apply to them.

The Current Teachers Contract

Article 12 of the current teachers collective bargaining contract [PDF file] deals with staffing ratios. It says:

Where class reduction is implemented in grades K-3, the District will follow applicable State Class-Size-Reduction legislation.

The teachers union (UTR) maintains that, as long as a class size reduction program is in place at the State level, the 20:1 ratio needs to apply. I would argue that the K-3 Class Size Reduction was never a mandate, but a reimbursement program whose net payouts heavily incentivized a 20:1 or nothing approach in the past. The net payouts are the program. Now the penalties and thus the program are different.

This will ultimately have to be fought out through the grievance process. I thinks it’s fair to say that neither side in the contract agreement envisioned this kind of change in the CSR program would occur instead of just maintaining or eliminating it.

The Parcel Tax “Contract”

In WCCUSD, there is a parcel tax that was recently replaced by another parcel tax. In both measures, this is one of the purposes:

Maintaining reduced class sizes for kindergarten through third grade students

Legally, this doesn’t mandate that this be done. It only permits this use for designation for parcel tax expenditure.

Over time an explicit allocation from the parcel tax has been made of about $1.9M. This is the amount stipulated by staff to be the net savings from fully staffing K-3 classes after dispensing with the CSR reimbursement entirely. Now that the reimbursement program has changed, this amount has now ballooned. The staff scenario with the largest net saving would save $4M. The amount to fully staff has to be more than this. $5M or $7M or … It would have to be calculated. So, following the existing funding mechanism would require maintaining the older CSR class sizes to take up most of the $9M to $10M parcel tax. Is this worth it compared to other possible uses?

As someone who has participated in all 4 parcel tax campaigns, I think there was always the idea that if the CSR reimbursement were to go away, support CSR minimum class size would have to be revisited. The reimbursement has not been eliminated, but has been practically eliminated.

Others (like most of the Budget Advisory Committee that I chair) argue that none of this number stuff will matter. People will feel betrayed. Maintaining the 20:1 ratio is a “third rail.” Messing with this will eliminate any chance of passing another parcel tax.

Maybe there are more important things than passing the next parcel tax. The current one expires in 2014. We have a $25M hole now. Being fiscally responsible requires taking a chance. I would rather grab the third rail and try being honest with people. Yes, this is not K-3 class size reduction as many people conceived it when they supported the parcel tax (let’s say it’s been “abandoned” just to keep things simple), but it is what is necessary given the current budget situation even with a parcel tax in place.