SMMUSD faces increased class sizes, permits

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One school board member says Malibu schools should be more heavily marketed for interdistrict permit students to meet both declining enrollment numbers in this city, and take the demand away from schools in Santa Monica.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Continuing to fight a looming $6 million to $9 million deficit projected for the next two years, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board members last week discussed increasing student-teacher ratios and amending the permit policy to allow more nonresidents to attend Santa Monica-Malibu schools. Because of declining enrollment at local area schools, the push for interdistrict permits may be targeted toward Malibu. The creation of a budget committee and a loan to curb an immediate cash shortage are also being undertaken.

Due to a reduction in state penalties for increasing class sizes, the district will likely be increasing the student-teacher ratios at all K-3 district schools from 20-1 to 23-1. According to a presentation at a budget workshop earlier this month, this can save the district $1.2 million. Grades 4 and 5 at all four Title I elementary schools will be kept at a ratio of 25-1, and will stay at 30-1 at all other elementary schools. Malibu High School and Middle School student-teacher ratios will increase by one student.

Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classified Teachers Association, said the teachers’ union has been in the process of polling district teachers for their opinions on how the increased class sizes will impact the quality of education delivered at the schools. The union may have an official opinion on the increases by March 30.

“We are aware of the challenging economic times, but I would assume these increases would be temporary in nature and the district would maintain the commitment to smaller classes in K3 for the long haul,” Keiley said.

Board member urges more permits for Malibu schoolsM

The board also examined amending the district’s interdistrict permit policy, which will impact staffing and enrollment numbers, as a means to equalize district schools in ratios and diversity while maximizing school revenues, particularly given the district’s financial situation. This will return as an action agenda item at a future meeting.

Currently, there is a moratorium on permit applications through 2008-2009 with exceptions that are tiered in priority and include acceptance from parents who work for the school district and at Santa Monica College, among others. This could change in 2009-2010 as the board may expand these exceptions to add the children of district high school alumni who do not live in either city, children of Santa Monica and Malibu city employees, as well as lowering permit acceptance for Santa Monica schools from grades K through 8 to K through 6.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews said district principals have reported higher numbers of parents than ever submitting kindergarten enrollment packets, which is believed to be due to an exodus of students returning from private schools. Because the placement is first come, first serve, the district cannot guarantee spots in kindergarten classes for next school year, which will be a factor in any permitting issuance decision.

At its Jan. 15 board meeting, the board was given a presentation on enrollment predictions at district schools for the coming years. All three Malibu elementary schools, Webster, Point Dume and Juan Cabrillo, are projected to have significant enrollment decreases within the next five to 10 years, with Point Dume reduced by 49 percent in five years and the others decreasing by 50 percent within a decade.

Permits for any Malibu schools are always offered and suggested by the district but, board member Barry Snell said, should be more heavily marketed to meet both declining enrollment numbers in Malibu and take the demand away from schools in Santa Monica.

The board also voted in favor of giving the district authorization to move forward in acquiring a Tax Revenue and Anticipation Notes, or TRAN(S), which are short-term loans used by school districts that have an immediate lack in state apportionments or tax revenues.

Used only as a quick fix and required to be repaid in a year, SMMUSD’s TRAN will not exceed $10 million and is needed to maintain the district’s operating expenses for 2009-2010, which are at risk due to deferred state funding allocations stemming from the state’s own budget deficit, in addition to an overall reduction in state funding.

As of the last board meeting, the district said it is hoping to make $4 million to $6 million in ongoing budget reductions starting next school year.

Superintendent Tim Cuneo said due to the dire budget forecast, SMMUSD is in the process of establishing a superintendent’s committee that will meet and analyze the budget situation and advise the board on additional means to cut costs by the time next year’s budget is adopted in June.

The commission will be comprised of 12 people including members from the Service Employees International Union, PTA, SMMCTA, the Financial Oversight Committee, as well as district classified staff, elementary and secondary teachers and principals, fiscal services personnel and the superintendent. Student bodies at the district high schools will also be consulted for any input and suggestions.

Cynthia Torres, chair of the FOC, said the recent budget calculations based on state figures may be a bit too positive and the further projected deterioration at the state level will likely mean further reductions in funding for SMMUSD.

“Our district must continue to respond flexibly to an extremely fluid economic environment [as] we are concerned that the financial picture in California is going to continue to worsen,” Torres said. “Our economic predictions of state revenues may be much too optimistic and we are worried.”

The next official board meeting will take place on April 2 at the district office. Another budget specific workshop is scheduled for May 5.