Comparison numbers worse for Gilroy

A pile of backpacks are crowded near the front door of Suzanne

Gilroy
– California schools are overcrowded and underfunded, according
to a study released this week, and Gilroy is even worse.
Classrooms in California schools are packed, with an average of
20.9 students to every teacher, compared to the nationwide average
of 16.1 students per teacher.
Gilroy – California schools are overcrowded and underfunded, according to a study released this week, and Gilroy is even worse.

Classrooms in California schools are packed, with an average of 20.9 students to every teacher, compared to the nationwide average of 16.1 students per teacher.

In GUSD, there are an average of 29.1 students per teacher. Schools in Santa Clara County have an average of 27.5 students per teacher.

In GUSD, the average class size in classrooms in the kindergarten through third grade is 20 students. The states offers districts the option to keep that ratio in those classes in return for funding, but the state does not always hold up its end of the deal. The remainder must be offset by money from districts’ general funds.

The findings are part of a 216-page report released by the Rand Corp. on Monday. The study, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is the first comprehensive analysis of the state’s education system as compared to the rest of the country.

The report examines a wide variety of factors that influence education and student achievement, including funding, teacher pay and qualifications, school facilities, standardized test scores from 1990 through 2003, and interestingly, rates of teen pregnancy.

According to the report, California spends $7,434 per student, about $600 less than the national average, with states such as New York and New Jersey spending an average of $11,000 per student. Information about how much GUSD spends per student is not currently available. Steve Brinkman, GUSD’s assistant superintendent of administrative services, said he’s working on compiling that data in order to compare it to other districts that are similar to GUSD.

Brinkman said simple state-to-state comparisons are not always the best way to look at California’s education budget crisis.

“Anytime you get further away from the ocean, the cost of living is much lower. Consequently, you can offer more dollars per student in many cases,” he said. “It also depends on the way districts in other states choose to fund. We have the largest number of students of any state, so by definition, you need a lot more. It’s very difficult to keep pace with other states. Obviously, the whole system needs to be reformed.”

GUSD receives a base factor of about $4,900 in annual state funding, but after a few deductions that number is whittled to between $4,300 and $4,400, Brinkman said. State funding is largely dependent upon student attendance, with higher attendance meaning more aide.

Salvatore Tomasello, principal at Ascension Solorsano Middle School, said the biggest problem related to overcrowded classrooms is the reduced amount of time teachers are able to spend with students. That issue is exacerbated in middle schools, he said, where classes rotate and teachers spend only about 45 minutes with one group of students.

“That forces teachers to be flexible and make themselves available to students either before or after school or at lunch,” Tomasello said.

More students also means a bigger teacher workload, with more papers to grade and more feedback to give, he said.

One of the primary pieces of the puzzle, said 28th District Assemblyman Simòn Salinas, is improving the infrastructure of schools across the state. Salinas praised the number of bonds passed over the past several years that are designated solely to construct and improve facilities.

“New classrooms and new schools are important. We need to continue to provide the resources to our teachers in the classrooms, so we can reverse the trend of our students,” said Salinas, who was as a sixth-grade teacher in the mid-1980s. “That’s certainly part of it. Teachers can’t do an effective job if they don’t have adequate resources.”

Salinas also said the unique demographic make up of students in California sets the state apart from others, making comparisons misleading. One out of every 10 people in California is foreign born, and the state has a high number of migrant families whose jobs require them to pull their children out of school.

“The reality here in California is we have to figure out other ways for students to progress academically. We need more of a support system for our teachers,” he said, adding that when he worked as a teacher, he benefited from the helps of teacher assistants. “But for that, it takes resources.”

Principal Tomasello said the problem is not how districts are allocating their money, but rather a lack of money in general.

“I think it really comes down to a funding issue,” Tomasello said. “It’s a statewide problem. And when you look at the budget projections and look at the economic projections … it looks like it’s possibly going to get worse.”

Student-teacher ratios

Number of students per teacher in Santa Clara Co.

• GUSD: 29.1

• Morgan Hill Unified School District: 28.4

• San Jose Unified School District: 27.9

• Campbell Union High School District: 30.8

• California: 20.9

• Nationwide: 16.1

• Santa Clara County: 27.5

To read the complete study from the Rand Corp., go to www.rand.org.

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