Tired of not being able to talk about overcrowded classes at school board meetings, an Oxnard School Board trustee is threatening to talk to the District Attorney’s office instead.
Denis O’Leary says he has tried unsuccessfully for over a year to get a discussion of classroom size reduction on a meeting agenda, and is ready to talk to the DA’s office about possible Brown Act violations because of it.
Twice when other trustees — Al Duff on one occasion, Debra Cordes on another — joined with O’Leary to ask that a discussion be placed on an upcoming meeting agenda, Board President Veronica Robles-Solis denied the motion for being unnecessary.
Robles-Solis has said during meetings that study sessions and discussions in closed session on class size reduction are good enough; O’Leary disagrees.
“Study sessions are presentations only, no proposal and no vote,” says O’Leary. “Closed session items are out of the public view and, on items like this, are only information with no votes.”
Robles-Solis and O’Leary also disagree over parliamentary procedure. Robles-Solis has said all of the trustees must agree to put an item on the agenda while O’Leary says any two trustees can, thus the possible Brown Act violations.
“I did announce publicly (at the May 6 board meeting) that I will seek an investigation by the DA’s office into Brown Act violations and malfeasance in governance,” O’Leary said.
“Since one of the goals of Measure R was specifically to address overcrowding, why don’t we want to discuss it?” asks O’Leary, referring to the bond measure voters approved in 2012.
Measure R authorized the district to issue $90 million in bonds, to replace portable classrooms and relieve student overcrowding by building and equipping new classrooms and improve existing classrooms.
Oxnard School District Superintendent Cesar Morales says the district is doing everything it can to address the problem of overcrowding, including adding three new schools.
“We’re going to be adding staff in kindergarten through first grade next year,” said Morales. “We need more classrooms. We are in the process of building new school facilities in order to have more space.”
Morales said the district has also tried portable classrooms but found they are difficult to maintain. “There isn’t a funding mechanism to reimburse that,” he said.
But the decision to add more staff in the lower grades came about as a result of negotiations with the Oxnard School District teachers association, and Morales says the district can’t add staff to the upper grades.
O’Leary says he has “gotten a run-around” when he asks why staff can’t be added to upper grades, but attributes it to finances and politics.
Meanwhile Chuck Manley, the teacher’s association vice president, says the district’s classrooms are not only overcrowded, but that the K-3 staff additions won’t really address the problem.
“I believe we have the largest kindergarten-through-third-grade classrooms in the county, although I have no documentation of that,” Manley said. “They added to the support positions, but that’s not truly reducing class size — it’s like herding cats at that age.”
Manley estimates that the district’s kindergarten classes average 30 students per class and 26 per class by third grade. The California Dept. of Education’s class size reduction program has set 20 students per class as a goal. Manley says the staff additions might bring the average down to 24.
“The community spent millions modernizing [schools], then they were torn down to be replaced by the same size schools,” said Manley.