The Tucson Unified School District will spend $4.4 million to reduce class sizes for the upcoming school year in hopes of improving achievement for existing students and luring back those who have left.
The initiative, announced Friday, will reduce class sizes that have been as large as 40 down to an average of 27 students in grades two through 12. Class size would be capped at 24 students in kindergarten and first grade.
Smaller classes will benefit students and lighten the load for teachers. TUSD is making it happen by reallocating a minimum of $4.4 million from central administrative budgets into the classroom.
Much of the money comes from federal Title 1 funds, intended to help low-income children, which have previously been used on consultants for teacher and principal development. Those functions are now being addressed in-house. For campuses that are not eligible for Title 1 funds, the district will pull from its maintenance and operation budget and other areas.
“What we’re doing is shifting our dollars to show our priorities,” TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez said. “Our priorities are the people who teach the most important people in the district, which are our students. And class size is critical to that because teaching is about building relationship, and it’s difficult to build a relationship with 40 people in the class.”
The district will measure the success of the effort in three ways — the happiness of teachers as evidenced by retention, student achievement and the satisfaction of parents.
For Adelita Grijalva, TUSD Governing Board president, the reduction in class sizes is important. As a TUSD student, Grijalva’s own daughter has been in classrooms with as many as 33 children.
“To have the security as a parent knowing that 1-to-27 is going to be the goal for all of our children throughout the district and smaller in (kindergarten) and (first grade) … I hope that’s something the community sees — we’ve listened to your concerns and we’re really responding to them,” she said.
Sanchez agreed, noting that parents want to see how much funding is going to the classroom and school sites, as well as how many positions are assigned to directly support kids.
As a result, other changes for the upcoming school year include moving more than 140 central office positions to individual campuses. Currently, dropout-prevention specialists, intervention specialists, academic specialists and community representatives have been working out of the central office, visiting schools. Such a shift has also been recommended to the district as part of a recently completed curriculum audit that called for moving positions to campuses to better serve students.
The efforts being undertaken are on top of the district’s commitment to not issue any pink slips to teachers this year and also investing a total of about $6 million to adjust teacher salaries to ensure that teachers do not make less than new hires with equal years of experience.
“We hope that as families see that we’re dropping the student-to-teacher ratio, we’re putting more dollars onto the campus, we’re putting more central support onto the school and we’re increasing the level of support, that families will say TUSD is heading in a positive direction,” Sanchez said.
“My hope and expectation is this positive message translates into people saying, ‘We’ll give TUSD another opportunity’ if they’ve chosen to go somewhere else, or they’ll say, ‘We’re looking forward to enrolling or continuing our enrollment in TUSD.’ ”