NCLUSD juggles elementary assignments
NEWMAN – On a conference room wall in district headquarters, columns of numbers on a white board reflect the fluid classroom loading for each of the four Newman-Crows Landing elementary campuses.
Behind the numbers are students – some of whom will not be able to attend their “home” campus, and others whose request for a school of choice outside their attendance area was turned down this year.
Those situations, Superintendent Ed Felt recently told Mattos Newspapers, are the by-product of the district’s goal to reduce elementary class sizes.
“It has been a tough summer,” Felt acknowledged. “We want people to be happy, and we want people to have choices in public education, but there are only so many seats available. It is tough on families when you have to deny requests, or involuntarily transfer their son or daughter from their neighborhood school.”
The district has added teaching staff to accommodate growing elementary enrollment, with the goal of reducing class sizes to 27 or 28 students.
Averaging 29 to 29.5 students last year, the district’s elementary class sizes were the largest in Stanislaus County, Felt pointed out.
What started as a district goal essentially became a mandate when the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula was approved. The new funding formula requires that districts show progress toward reducing K-3 class sizes to 24-1 in order to be fully funded, Felt explained.
“We had already made a decision to try to lower our class sizes to levels that were better for teachers and better for kids,” the superintendent said. “We had already made the effort, but now the new formula requires that we get our K-3’s down.”
That set the target goal at class sizes averaging no larger than 28 students – not districtwide, but at each school site – and in turn has created a challenging situation.
Students living in a school’s attendance area take priority for seats over those who want to attend a school on an intra-district transfer – even if that student requesting school assignment on a transfer had been at the school in previous years.
Felt used Bonita as an example of how the process works.
The district was forced to deny a dozen requests from parents outside the Bonita attendance area who wanted their kindergarten students assigned to the Crows Landing campus.
“The only students in Bonita kindergarten next year are truly Bonita attendance area kids. Anybody from the city of Newman who applied was not accepted,” Felt explained.
But Bonita did have room at upper grade levels to approve all requests for continuing intra-district transfers. “All the continuing ones were honored. We were able to retain all the existing intra-districts in grades 1-5.”
Intra-district transfer requests must be filed annually, with no guarantee that a seat will be available at a school which a student has already attended. In some cases at schools other than Bonita, Felt said, the district was unable to honor transfer renewal requests because enrollment from within the attendance areas had filled seats.
He estimated that the district denied 25-30 transfer requests.
Those which were approved are contingent on space availability, Felt added.
And in some cases, there were not enough seats to accommodate students at their neighborhood school.
“At a couple of grade levels, one at Von Renner and another at Barrington, we don’t have enough room for the attendance area kids,” Felt commented. “We have been notifying parents that their children will be ‘overflowed’ to another campus in town, because we have no room at their attendance area site.”
Hunt is the overflow school for the district, while Von Renner’s capacity is being earmarked for growth in the dual language immersion program.
Barrington is full, and so is Bonita with the exception of first grade.
In overflow cases, he said, the district will offer transportation and those students are given first priority should a seat open up at their own school.
Felt said the district has tried to notify parents promptly of school assignments so they can make necessary arrangements.
Parents, he said, have been understanding for the most part.
“Ninety-nine percent of them have been extremely gracious and understanding,” Felt told Mattos Newspapers.
The challenges may be ongoing, he cautioned, as next year the district will have to show further progress toward the mandate of reducing K-5 class sizes to 24 students, which must be achieved by 2020.