The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will see a small increase in class sizes for a number of grades next year and one of six houses at Santa Monica High School will be cut after the Board of Education approved the measures Thursday, June 4th to help close the budget gap.

While the board voted to remove one house at Samohi, transferring its principal Wendy Wax Gellis to Malibu Middle School for the next school year, the board chose to retain two advisors and an outreach specialist from the house. The house program at Samohi provides for smaller learning communities with smaller student to advisor ratios. The removal of one house will create a savings of about $500,000, while the advisor and specialist positions would have saved an additional $200,000.

The vote for class sizes will increase classes by three students in kindergarten through third grade next year, and increase classes by one student in grades six through 12. There will be no change in class sizes for grades four and five, according to a staff report. Board members indicated that they plan to return class sizes to 2008-09 levels once it is fiscally prudent to do so.

The increases will result in a reduction of about $1.9 million in expenditures for next school year, according to a staff report.

The board additionally voted to approve a $1 million budget reduction by reducing contract services accounts by $300,000 and realigning the Special Education budget by $700,000.

A number of parents had expressed concerns to the school board regarding cutting one house at Samohi, but district staff said they made the recommendation for the cuts knowing the potential impacts they would have on students and programs.

School officials said they believe the measures are necessary given the state’s current budget crisis and noted that Santa Monica-Malibu is one of the few districts that does not have to issue layoff notices to employees this year.

“The state budget scenario looks worse day by day,” school board member Oscar de la Torre said. “We have to be fiscally prudent and make the first phase of cuts happen to avoid catastrophic cuts in 2010-11.”

Harry Keiley, Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association president, said association members were disappointed in the decision to increase class sizes and reduce one house at Samohi, but they are aware that the state’s budget situation has led to a need for unprecedented cuts.

“We’re disappointed but we realize that these are steps that had to be taken at this time,” Keiley said.

The teachers association understood it had to be “realistic” with its expectations given the current budget climate, he said. But as the district moves forward, Keiley encourages the board to consider other measures, such as reducing the use of consultants, to avoid additional cuts.

De la Torre said the board has taken steps to ensure that major programs are not sacrificed and voted to retain the two advisors and outreach specialist at the Samohi house to make sure there was continuity for students with the transition.

“We understand that we need to make serious cuts happen at this point, but the board is not willing to sacrifice direct services to the students of the community,” he said.

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