Saturday, May 25, 2013

A conversation with Superintendent Ahmadi

Yesterday I received a call from Pleasanton Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi. She asked me to meet with her at the district office. A fellow CSR supporter accompanied me to the meeting, and we spoke with Superintendent Ahmadi and Deputy Superintendent Luz Cázares for a little under an hour.

Superintendent Ahmadi told me that she had seen some of my emails about the 2nd grade CSR pledge campaign and wanted to clarify the school district's efforts in class size reduction to make sure that I had all the facts.

No extra district funds for 2nd grade CSR
The basic take-home message is that the district does not have any extra funds to be used for further class size reduction efforts.

The superintendents said that the $2.5 million in one-time funding from the state, reported by Ms. Cázares at the May 14 board meeting, is earmarked for Common Core implementation. They also stated that any funds in the current budget for Common Core were taken from other restricted funds (e.g., Title I) that cannot be redirected for CSR.

In addition, the superintendents said that there are no extra funds in the district reserves. They said that the money held in reserves include funds mandated by the state and $2.9 million for 20:1 K-3 class sizes in 2014-15.

Background about CSR funds and "flexibility"
As described in this article, "Class size reduction program continues to unravel," California's CSR program began in 1996 and offered schools a generous subsidy of $1,000+ per student if they maintained class sizes of 21 or less.

However, in 2009, the California state legislature gave districts the right to increase class sizes to 25 or more while still receiving 70% of the CSR subsidy. This chart shows the penalties faced by school districts for increasing class sizes. There is a 30% penalty for class sizes greater than 25 and a 20% penalty for class sizes greater than 23.

Because of this CSR flexibility, many California school districts, including Pleasanton, have chosen to raise K-3 class sizes and use the CSR subsidy for other district needs.

Expiration of CSR flexibility?
This flexibility is set to expire in 2014-15. At that time, if the current law holds, school districts must again reduce K-3 class sizes to 21 or less if they wish to continue receiving the CSR subsidy of $1,000+ per student.

In anticipation of this flexibility expiration, the Pleasanton district has planned for 20:1 K-3 class sizes in 2014-15 and has placed $2.9 million in reserves.

New CSR target of 24:1 in 2020-21
However, if the current law changes, anything could happen. In no way are 20:1 K-3 class sizes guaranteed for 2014-15.

In fact, according to this article, "Brown budget could increase class sizes...," Governor Brown's California state budget proposal calls for phasing out CSR. In his state budget proposal, the new target goal for K-3 class sizes would be 24:1....beginning in the 2020-21 school year, 7 years in the future.

The governor's budget proposal calls for incremental class size changes each year towards the 24:1 goal in 2020-21. Ms. Cázares explained that this could mean dropping class size ratios from 30:1 in 2013-14 to 29.X:1 in 2014-15 and then continuing to inch down each year until the district hits 24:1 in 2020-21.

To me, this seems like an awfully long time to wait for CSR. Unfortunately, under this scenario, the children currently entering 2nd and 3rd grade this fall would miss out on CSR altogether.

Too late for budget changes?
Both superintendents emphasized that it is very late in the school year to be making changes to the budget for the coming fall. They told me that the typical budget is developed in January and finalized in February. They said that any fundraising efforts should ideally occur in the fall for the following school year.

However, looking back at school board news in previous years, I noticed that the school board's decision to restore K-3 class size reduction at 25:1 for the 2011-12 school year was made at a special board meeting on June 3, 2011. (See the June 4, 2011, Pleasanton Patch article, "School board restores $2.4 million in programs.")

So last-minute budget changes have happened in the past, although they are not preferable.

New board meeting on June 4, 2013
I also noticed upon rereading the published agenda for the May 28 board meeting that the board meeting calendar has been changed. A previous "board study session" on June 4, 2013, has been changed to a regular board meeting.

This means that if the board agrees to add an agenda item regarding elementary CSR, the board could add it to the June 4 agenda and discuss/act on restoring elementary CSR at that point.

What now?
To be honest, after meeting with the superintendents and talking with some CSR supporters, I thought perhaps it was time to abandon this pledge campaign and put it on "pause." I even started drafting communications expressing such last night. But something held me back, and I couldn't find the right words. So I went to sleep, exhausted from this week's efforts of late-night blog posts and pledge campaign efforts, and decided to write something in the morning.

Today, I have been researching CSR and California state policies all day. I have also called various CSR supporters for their input and thoughts.

The Pleasanton Patch and the Pleasanton Weekly have both published articles about our grassroots CSR pledge campaign, and both announced that parents will be at the May 28 board meeting to ask the school board to put CSR on the next meeting agenda.

I have also received additional pledges--not many (which is understandable, considering that this is a 3-day holiday weekend for most people)--but enough that I feel a certain responsibility to carry out my commitment to all of the CSR supporters and present their pledges to the board.

May 28 school board meeting
So I am still planning on attending the May 28 school board meeting. I will still present the results of our pledge campaign, and I still think it would be helpful if we had more pledges from all 9 elementary school sites to report so that we can demonstrate broad district-wide support for CSR.

I will ask the school board to add elementary CSR to the agenda for the June 4 meeting and will ask them to consider possibilities of funds, depending on the results of the governor's final state budget, which supposedly will be published in June but may take longer, depending on the California state legislature's approval process.

I would still appreciate support from other parents, teachers, and community members at the meeting, but naturally, it is your choice. I understand firsthand that attending school board meetings is difficult, especially for parents of young children. At least one or two other parents have told me that they will accompany me at the May 28 meeting. If you choose to do so as well, I would like to thank you in advance for your support and ask you to consider sharing your own stories during the public comment time at ~7:15 p.m.

Note: In a previous email communication, I made a mistake. Cards for the public comment times are blue; cards to speak about a specific agenda item are yellow. Sorry about that--I'll chalk it up to one too many late-night email compositions.

What do I expect to happen?
Honestly, 2nd grade CSR will probably not happen this fall unless one of three things occur:
  • Our pledge campaign takes off exponentially with an 80-100% participation rate of 1st grade parents at all 9 elementary schools, and I am able to present the school board with $325,000 in pledges to cover the entire cost of 2nd grade CSR.
  • Some company or wealthy donor steps in and magically offers to cover the cost of elementary CSR.
  • The governor's state budget is approved and published early and includes provisions and funding that make CSR possible.

None of these options is especially likely, but we can always hope (and we would be most grateful for any corporate or private major donors!)

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone, and as always, thank you for reading and for being parents, teachers, and neighbors who care deeply about our kids, our community, and education.

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