The Davis school board heard a plea for smaller class sizes from elementary school parents during public comment at Thursday night’s meeting.
Trustees also gave staff a green light to proceed with plans for a new shade structure over the new outdoor dining area that will be created when the aging Davis High School multipurpose room is demolished this summer.
The discussion of class size began with Patwin Elementary parent Jim McKinney presenting the trustees with a petition signed by about 125 parents, some from Patwin and some from other schools. The petition reads, in part, “classes of 30-plus kids are just too big!” and urges the school board “to restore funding to primary school teaching so that class sizes for kindergarten to third grade reduce to appropriate levels.”
McKinney spoke of the “marvelous teachers and a great new principal” at Patwin, but added that “despite their talent they aren’t superhuman” when it comes to managing a classroom with 30-some kids. McKinney said he had voted for recent school parcel tax measures and urged the trustees to “please start getting class sizes down.”
Patwin parent Maria Rea said her family “moved to Davis for the schools” but now finds that her kids are in classes of 30 students. She said she’s found that Woodland has an elementary class size of 24, and West Sacramento has a class size of 20 students.
“We want to help you help us,” Rea said, and asked the board to form a class size reduction subcommittee.
Parent Steve Wheeler said, “Apparently Measure E (the most recent school parcel tax) was too small. I want to see class size (reduction) become a priority.”
Parent Crystal Wilcox said she and her husband are Davis High graduates who “came back, because we firmly believe in what happens in Davis (schools). We are concerned with class sizes; they are way too large.”
Parent Leslie Blevins said her household had paid more for a home in order to live in Davis. And while she said she’s happy with the education her child is getting at Patwin, she worries that the larger class sizes will lead to a decline in student test scores, which could lead to a drop in home prices.
“People come to Davis specifically for the schools,” Blevins said. “I’ve been here 10 years, and I never want to leave, but I don’t want to see home values going down, and I don’t want to (feel I need to think about sending a child) to a private school.”
Teacher Dorrie Subottka of Korematsu Elementary said her classes have grown from 20 students three years ago, first to 24 students, and this year to 30 to 31 students — “a 50 percent increase from three years ago. Ten more students, 10 more desks, 10 more coat hooks and cubbies.”
Subottka said this makes it “harder to make sure a student with a nut allergy is not sitting too close to a student eating nuts during snack time” and also more difficult when she needs to count her students on the playground during recess.
Teacher Steve Kelleher of Korematsu noted that “more students means more papers and projects to correct, more materials to pass out. We also have fewer teachers to cover yard duty and fewer colleagues with whom to collaborate (when planning lessons). More students mean you have less time for the teacher to spend with each student individually” which also will “impact the effective implementation of the new Common Core academic standards.”
School board president Sheila Allen thanked the parents and teachers for their polite comments. Allen noted that since neither class size nor the school district budget were on the agenda, state law did not permit the board to take up a discussion in response to the public comment on the spot. But Allen did refer those who spoke to this year’s report of the Parcel Tax Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which details how parcel tax funds have been spent. The report is on the district website, www.djusd.net.
Trustees also heard a presentation from Mike Adell, the school district’s director of facilities, who gave an update about plans for a shade structure over a lunch area that will be built when the Davis High MPR is demolished this summer. The MPR, built in the 1960s, has been closed due to toxic mold since 2010, and the school board decided last year that it was better to raze the building rather than pay for a new roof.
Adell said a shade structure would cost $75,000 to $90,o00. He added that while the district could purchase a shade structure that is pre-approved by the Division of the State Architect, which reviews all school construction, the project still would need DSA approval for the site on which the structure would stand.
Adell said the two projects could run through the approval process concurrently if the district moves swiftly on initiating paperwork for the shade structure now.
Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, the district’s chief business officer, told the trustees that “we have money for small (facilities) projects, but not big projects,” and that the proposed Davis High shade structure could therefore be funded.
Allen asked if the shade structure could be built to accommodate solar panels in the future, and Adell said this was possible. But he noted that solar panels probably would involve about 1,000 feet of trenching and new electrical lines, since the shade structure will be on the far side of the campus, away from the high school’s main utility equipment.
Adell also was asked if the shade structure could be moved and reused in the event that the district someday decides to build a new student commons building on the MPR site. He said it would be difficult to do so, but he also observed that it will be some years before the school district will have the kind of facilities funding that a new student commons building would entail — likely $10 million or more, according to estimates made several years ago.
Demolition of the old MPR is expected to begin in a few weeks, as the current school year ends.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.