Here's the bad news: Classroom sizes are up and supplies more limited in Redondo schools this year. The really good news: No teacher jobs were lost.
The outlook was much darker in May, when the Redondo Beach Unified School District sent layoff notices to 16 elementary school teachers to make up for a $3.6 million budget deficit. Educators, community members, parents, and students protested, held fundraisers, and pleaded passionately to members of the school board to save the jobs.
Their efforts paid off. Every teacher pinkslipped is still working in Redondo schools.
"They may not have landed the same job at the school, but they are back and employed in our district this year," said Steven Keller, RBUSD superintendent.
Keller said the school district did not have to reduce school days, or initiate furlough days for staff members. However, class sizes had to be slightly increased. The increase is most noticeable in younger grades.
"Last year we had an average of 22.4 students per class in kindergarten through third grade. This year it's about 24.7, which is an increase of a little more than 2.5 kids on an average per class," said Keller.
In upper grades and middle school, there hasn't been too much of an increase, less than one per class, said Keller. But because teachers have a few more kids in some of their classes, supplies are more limited.
Though students have all of the core curriculum material, sometimes the extra intervention materials or acceleration materials outside of the core curriculum get compromised. "We certainly don't have the money we used to have to purchase more curriculum materials to teach our kids," explained Keller.
"The more kids you have, the more testing and assessment work the teachers have to do. It considerably increases their workload," said Beryl Heights Elementary School principal, Karen Mohr.
At her school, one English language learner position had to be eliminated because of budget cuts. "Other than that it's not really too bad," said Mohr, who doesn't anticipate any programs to be on the chopping block for next year.
"We have a tighter schedule, and we are certainly doing more with less, there's no doubt about it," said Keller.
A few jobs were lost: There are three less administrative positions in the district—one principal position, one assistant principal, and a director level position were shed.
"We have approximately 30 administrators, so that's a 10 percent cut in management," explained Keller. That means South Bay Adult School, which had a director and a principal last year, only has a director this year, and Adams Middle school, which had two assistant principals last year, has only one full-time principal this year.
Tracy Yagi, whose daughter, Erin, is a first grade student in Jefferson Elementary, was put into a class with 29 children in the beginning of the school year. "But a few weeks ago we received a robo-call message from Principal (Kara) Heinrich telling us that because of some federal money, we were able to hire an additional first grade teacher," said Yagi, whose daughter is now in a smaller class with 24 kids.
Fortunately, nothing has been lost in terms of the extracurricular activities or language classes offered, though Keller says the district is just "tighter in everything they do." To respond to the crunch, PTA organizations have stepped up and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support programs and teachers. "They have become better at fundraising because they know our school budget can't pay for it all," said Keller.
The non-profit Redondo Beach Educational Foundation was able to bring back two teaching positions to the district for this year. According to Brad Serkin, president of the RBEF, the organization raised more than $300,000 this year. "The funds raised came from both parents and RBUSD staff," he said.
He added that federal stimulus funds signed into law in August made the impact less than what it might have been. The RBUSD is expecting, but has not yet received, $1.6 million in stimulus funds.
Keller said he is optimistic, and hopes the horror story of cuts is over. "However, if the state hits us as hard as they have in the years past, for the school year 2011-2012, I can guarantee you, we will look at program cuts that will be very controversial," said Keller. He did not want to elaborate what those cuts could be.
State budget cuts prompted this year's retrenchment. The California budget proposal issued earlier this year slashed $2.5 billion in funding for public education.
"The state has been, in my opinion, criminal in the way they have treated public education," said Keller. "It's very discouraging that our leaders in Sacramento have absolutely zero clue as to how they have compromised public education for all students, whether they are academically high achieving, or high risk, and everything in the middle.
"Their bad politics are hurting all kids. I think someone needs to look in the mirror quickly."