Fairfield-Suisun board hears report on high cost of class size reduction
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield-Suisun school district administrators last week were briefed on the costs of reducing class sizes at all levels and faced a stark reality.
The district has about $50 million a year that is not already committed in staff costs, according to district staff. Along with the cost of reduced class sizes comes a cost of more than $52 million in staff costs alone and an additional $331 million to $445 million in one-time costs for new facilities. And these are only basic costs that do not include costs such as utilities and maintenance.
Sections 41376 and 41378 of the California Education Code of 1964 prescribe maximum class sizes and penalties for districts whose classes exceed the limits.
The penalty for exceeding the limit is a loss of all base funding for each student exceeding the limit. The district meets these requirements each year with the district’s current average class size of 21 to 1 in transitional kindergarten through third grade; 26 to 1 from fourth to eighth grade (includes both primary and secondary); and 24 to 1 from ninth to 12th grade.
“Right now we’re at the level we need to meet those requirements,” Superintendent Kris Corey said Thursday.
The state created a class size reduction plan that was implemented from 1996-97 to 2012-13. This provided additional funding, a hard cap of 20.4 for a single class of K-3 students, and a financial penalty for exceeding that hard cap for that class.
“At the time, some thought it was better to have more students in the class and take the financial hit,” Corey said.
School district staff members used a formula to assemble a budget with teacher-student ratios of 15 to 1. The formula is broken down by grade level.
The district ratio for kindergarten through third grade is 24 to 1. For fourth through eighth grades, it is 32 to 1 (this includes staff from K-8 schools). For secondary years, sixth to twelfth, the limit is 170 contacts per day, divided by five periods, to give an average of 34 to 1 if 170 complete contacts.
The penalty for not meeting this average implementation cost in the 2021-22 school year is $6.5 million. The district received $5.1 million in the current school year from the state. The district is currently contributing $1.4 million from its general fund to cover the difference.
The Fairfield Suisun Unified Teachers Association and the school district have agreed on maximum class sizes for each grade. The two should negotiate to change these agreed class sizes.
The projected budget for 2022-23, based on the district’s second interim report, shows that 81% of the general fund budget, or $214 million, is spent on salaries and benefits, and within the normal district budget average. California school. That leaves 19% of the remaining budget, or $50 million, for materials and supplies, utility costs, and other non-staff items.
The Business Department calculated the cost of each full-time teacher at $90,000 (salary and benefits before negotiated agreements). The increase in the cost of a teacher times the number of teachers to reduce class sizes to a 15 to 1 ratio is $49.1 million.
The district should increase the substitute teaching budget to match the increase in the number of teachers. For a staffing ratio of 15:1 for teachers, the district would need to add 546.4 teachers. This would represent a 40% increase in teaching staff. Increasing the substitute teacher budget by 40% would take it from the current budget of $3.7 million to $5.2 million, an increase of $1.5 million.
These totals do not include additional time-release specialists, special education teachers, consultant teachers, counselors, classified and management staff, etc., the district reports.
Some challenges include difficulties in hiring new teachers due to the national teacher shortage and what is known as “the great quit,” in which people simply don’t return to teaching, staff report.
Central office staff should process and manage the increased number of employees. The estimated cost increase for additional employees is approximately $1.6 million.
Based on current enrollment, the district would need 506 additional classrooms, which means more space equivalent to 17 elementary schools. The estimated cost of a stick-built classroom is $864,000 for 506 classrooms, which equals $437 million. To make classrooms as modular buildings, the cost is estimated at $638,400 with the total for 506 classrooms at $323 million.
The new classrooms would also need furniture/technology which the district estimates at $8.1 million. Plus, things like utilities and custodial employees would cost an additional $334 million. This does not include escalation costs, maintenance costs, or additional facilities department staff to manage projects.
From conception to completion of construction, it would take an average of three years to build a primary school. It doesn’t come cheap with an average school costing $40 million not including the land. New elementary schools also require a minimum of 10 acres.
Colleges are priced in the millions and take an average of four years to build and require 20 acres. The new secondary schools need 50 acres. Currently in the district there are a limited number of plots larger than 10 acres available for purchase or exchange.
Some options offered to make this work include closing some schools, including the Adult School, Mary Bird and other state preschool programs, and H. Glenn Richardson. Closing schools would add additional classrooms.
This would require some students to attend a non-public school at a cost of $2.8 million per year.
Additionally, the school could eliminate all special program classes (physical education, music, art, learning center) in all elementary schools, which would add 16 classrooms. These classes would be held in various other classrooms in the school.
The presentation also included a variety of shots on how to make it work. The district could return to AM/PM kindergarten across the district. This plan would free up 114 classrooms, but the district would still need an additional 392 classrooms.
The district could also opt for multi-track education throughout the year. In this plan, teachers would rotate through different classrooms. Students would be in session through various schedules. This would create breaks for students at different times of the year.
The district must meet state requirements that include current legislation that requires the district to expand transitional kindergarten offerings, which will require additional classrooms. Current legislation requires the district to provide at least 30 days of recess for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and the state requires schools to provide a nine-hour school day for students in those grades beginning in 2023. -24.
“Look at the budget with $50 million left over after all that just isn’t doable right now,” Corey said.
Staff also considered reducing class sizes to only third-grade students.
There are currently 66 teachers at third-grade level budgeted for 2022-23. To reduce class sizes to a 15-to-1 ratio, the district would need 100 teachers. The total cost of reducing class sizes to 15:1 at the third grade level only is estimated at $4.94 million.
“A smaller class comes at a cost,” Corey said. “Staff will work to implement a plan if the council wants to pursue it.”
Administrator Ana Petero said she felt the presentation was superfluous and a drain on staff time.
Not all of his fellow administrators felt the same way.
“I am grateful for the information as we now know that we only have $50 million in our discretionary funds to work with,” administrator Helen Tilley said.
Trustee Craig Wilson said he enjoyed the presentation as it gives the board insight into what they can do going forward with what they need to work on within the budget.
“A lot of these things will have to be done in the future on a smaller scale,” Wilson said.
Corey noted that reducing class sizes would not be financially feasible at this time.