Saturday Shorts: Auspicious start to school year

August 23, 2013 

Labor Day is still a week away, but the school year is well under way for Modesto City Schools and nearly all California districts. Some have already held back-to-school nights.

Whether or not the early start is a good thing is debatable, but there is good news in the fact this will be a full school year for kindergarten through 12th-grade students in Modesto and most places. Students will be in class for 180 days, the minimum number set by the state. During the recession years, the Legislature allowed that number to drop to 175 as a way for school districts to save money.

The Modesto school board Monday signed off on contracts, previously approved by the unions, that restore the instruction days and three staff development days for 2013-14. Modesto students started Aug. 8, but teachers and counselors spent the previous two days in training, and they'll have a third training day on Nov. 1.

Unpaid furloughs also reduced income, and the restoration of days brings salaries back almost to what they were five years ago, before the furloughs began.

Modesto's situation is mirrored around the state, according to a survey by EdSource. Its report released this week shows school districts are experiencing fewer "stresses" this year. Stresses are defined as teacher layoffs, shortened school years and families facing foreclosures and doing without health insurance.

As noted by EdSource, the improvements are "a result of the state's slowly improving economy and the passage of the Proposition 30 tax measure in November 2012." Districts in poor areas — that includes most of ours — also are expected a major boost in state revenue from the new funding formula promoted by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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If students are back in school, then a natural follow-up question is how many are there?

Modesto City Schools is showing slight growth overall, which is another positive sign. For the whole district, the total is 29,762 students, 102 more than projected and 20 more than last year.

A brief breakdown:

• The number of kindergarten through sixth-grade students is 12,224, which is 58 fewer than projected and 63 fewer than about the same time last year. As of Aug. 19, Fairview (883 students) and Franklin (881) elementary schools had the highest enrollments. Wilson (354) and Enslen (356) are the smallest campuses.

• In the seventh and eighth grades, there are 3,054 students, 51 more than projected and 67 more than last year. The four junior highs are much more balanced in size: all in the 700-750 range.

• And in the comprehensive Modesto public high schools, which also serve Sylvan, Stanislaus Union, Salida, Empire and smaller feeder districts, there are 13,978 students, 109 more than expected and 16 more than last year.

A troubling size disparity continues at the high schools. As expected, Enochs (2,354) has the most students, followed by Modesto (2,347) — but Gregori (2,021) had the biggest gain, with 100 more students than projected.

Beyer (1,680) and Johansen (1,589) are about the same size while Davis (1,318) continues to struggle. The district needs to continue to work to equalize the size — and therefore the offerings and opportunities — at the comprehensive high schools.

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