File photo

Samohi students leave school for the day. The high school has 3.5 percent fewer students than last year. File photo

SMMUSD HDQTRS— Class sizes remain high at secondary schools despite an enrollment drop, according a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District report.

There are 106 fewer students enrolled in the district this year, a 1 percent drop from last year.

Enrollment at many of the elementary schools are up, but 107 fewer students are enrolled at Santa Monica High School this year, a 3.5 percent decrease.

Enrollment was projected to drop, but school officials pointed to a potential trend of students choosing private schools starting in seventh grade rather than ninth grade, as had previously been the case. This was particularly evident at Lincoln Middle School, where there was an increase in the number of students leaving for private schools.

Despite the enrollment decline, many of the class sizes at the middle schools and high schools remain high.

State budget cuts dealt SMMUSD a financial blow that they have combated partially through staff cuts.

Board of Education President Laurie Lieberman suggested that as the financial situation improves, balancing class sizes should be a top priority.

“I think it’s not a secret that the secondary levels seem pretty overloaded,” she said. “That’s where we might want to look. Because it seems like it’s getting better at the elementary school level. But I don’t want to presume what the numbers should be or where they should be.”

Samohi is currently staffed at a 36 to 1 student-teacher ratio. There are 38 classes with 38 or more students. At Malibu High School, some classes have 41 and 42 students.

Part of the reason for the overloading is that school officials have yet to reconfigure classes. Officials may make changes in the coming weeks, after students have received their first report cards and the deadline for add/drop has expired.

“In an ideal world, of course we’d have smaller class sizes,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon. “We’re doing everything we can given our financial situation. We know how hard teachers work and we want to get those numbers down.”

In some cases, officials are forced to decide whether to slightly understaff or vastly overstaff. At Will Rogers Elementary School, all four of the fifth grade classes have 31 students despite the board’s stated preference for a max of 30.

“Now the district recognizes that that’s a lot of students,” said Debra Moore Washington, assistant superintendent of Human Resources. “But we also look at what options the school has. So if they are four students over in the fifth grade, do you add another teacher? If you do, then you have something like 22 or 23 each.”

Boardmember Jose Escarce pointed out that the district had smaller class sizes 10 years ago when there were 12,800 enrolled students, about 1,500 more students than the 11,315 enrolled today. He compared challenges faced by the district to those faced by European countries whose deficits grow larger as a result of decreased spending. He urged district officials to study attrition rates from sixth to ninth grade.

“It may be that we have reached a point where increasing our staffing ratios at secondary schools may be counter-productive,” he said. “Because at the margin it is causing parents to question whether this is the best choice for their students. This may or may not be happening. It’s very hard to know.”

 

dave@smdp.com