By Karen Billing
In a narrow vote last week, Del Mar Union School District teachers voted down an amendment to their 2013-16 contracts that included language about class size increases. The vote was 108 opposed and 105 in favor of the contract, according to district teachers who wished to remain anonymous.
Del Mar California Teachers Association (DMCTA) Co-Presidents Gina Vargus and Tiffany Kinney did not respond to requests for comment.
Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) Superintendent Holly McClurg said that the tentative agreement the teachers were voting on maintains the current class sizes and short-term flexibility. She said the district’s intent is to maintain current class sizes at grades K-3 of 22 and grades 4-6 of 27, with the flexibility to go up to the state’s maximum of 24 in K-3 and 29 in grades 4-6.
“Our district is committed to maintaining low class sizes and has no intention of increasing class sizes beyond the current class sizes in the district,” McClurg said. “As is currently in place, there would be short-term flexibility to meet the needs within a school due to enrollment during the school year. The class structure is in place this school year and would continue in the future.”
In April 2013, the teachers reached a one-year memorandum of understanding, resulting in $1 million in budget solutions that included increasing class sizes from 20:1 to 23:1 in grades kindergarten through third; a corresponding reduction in Extended Studies Curriculum; no more oversize class stipends; no more upper grade complimentary (free) days; and reduced out-of-contract pay for shared contracts.
At that time, teachers agreed on solutions such as class size increases over proposed furlough days.
But as rumors spread throughout the district about what the teachers were ratifying, concerns and frustrations grew. Some parents even picketed in front of the multi-use rooms at schools while votes were being held because they wanted teachers to know how they felt.
While they were assured by McClurg that the intent is not to raise class sizes, some parents focused on “the state’s maximum” in the contract language and contend that it does, in fact, spell out class size increases. They said the state’s maximum refers to the new funding formula that calls for an average class size maximum in K-3 of 25. Because the funding formula states an average, a third grade class with 28 students would be fine as long as other classes had low numbers to bring down the average.
Many parents did not want to go on record but stated how much they value their low class sizes and that they were upset they didn’t have the opportunity to weigh in on the agreement before the vote.
Sycamore Ridge parent Josh Clorfeine heard about the vote, as many parents did, by accident. One parent reported finding a notice about the upcoming vote left in the copy room while she was volunteering.
“It’s unfortunate the way we found out,” Clorfeine said. “It was frustrating that there wasn’t any attempt to communicate about it from the district and that they didn’t solicit input as they prepared to make a proposal to increase class size caps.”
As it is now, his fourth grader is already in a class that is two students over the cap. He said he did appreciate the efforts school staff made to avoid having a combination class by bumping a class above the cap in this case, but he said he is just disappointed with the lack of transparency in the process.
“It just seems that a lot of this could’ve been avoided by having an open discussion,” Clorfeine said.
According to McClurg, the process for ratifying any changes to the agreement between the DMCTA and the DMUSD follows a timeline. After the vote, the tentative agreement is publicized and brought before the board of trustees at a public meeting — which will be held at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26, at Del Mar Hills Academy.
The meeting occurs after presstime for this newspaper, so check for a full report online (www.delmartimes.net) or in next week’s newspaper (April 3 issue).
Despite the rumors, McClurg said that the best interests of the children are the top priority of the district.
“Low class sizes are highly valued by our district and are something we plan to maintain,” McClurg said.