State

Budget cuts easy to see in Stanislaus County schools

As the new school year gets under way this month, many parents and students are finding out what a second straight year of deep budget cuts can do.

School districts have laid off newer teachers and encouraged veterans to retire early, downsized custodians, bus drivers and teacher aides, increased class sizes, and reduced or eliminated arts, music, theater and other electives.

Oakdale High School senior Charles Lokker said he's noticed larger classes, which means less one-on-one time with teachers.

"In some classes, there's not even enough desks for everyone," he said.

A computer elective he was thinking of taking was eliminated, and he said some Advanced Placement classes that used to have two sections of 20 or fewer students have merged into one class of 35 or 40 students. In some cases, officials have reduced the number of students accepted into the pre-college classes.

"I've noticed some changes, but only a little bit. But it hasn't really done much to me," he said.

Sonam Virk, a senior at Enochs High School in Modesto, anticipates overloaded teachers and staff when she returns to school today.

For example, student activity directors were eliminated at Modesto high schools, so one of Enochs' English teachers will teach some leadership classes and try to plan school events with student leaders.

"It's going to be a little more of a time-crunch issue this year," Sonam said.

In Turlock, some Pitman High School students said they noticed changes on campus.

"There's like 40 people in each one," said sophomore Alyssa Bird, 14, about her classes.

She said there aren't enough books for students to have one at home and one in school. That, combined with limited access to lockers during the day, means "I'm carrying around five heavy books all day."

Sophomore Sara Wyatt said her English class has 33 students compared with 22 last year.

"People won't have a seat, and we'll have to scoot one over and share," said Ashlee Medeiros, 16, also a sophomore.

At Turlock High School, senior Erik Sanchez said, "There are a lot of people in my classes compared to last year." On the bright side, he said, "We had 79 people trying out for cross-country."

Walnut Elementary Education Center Principal Mark Holmes sent parents a letter asking for help with such school supplies as glue and pencils.

Hickman Charter School and home-schooling mom Monique Capp fears budget cuts will mean fewer field trips and fine arts opportunities for her children — second-grader Lilah and third-grader Ellis. Hickman students went to several Gallo Center for the Arts performances and traveled to the San Francisco Exploratorium last year.

Though Capp understands that recessionary times call for sacrifices from everyone, she thinks officials should be careful with cutting education.

"It's one of the reasons we left Modesto City Schools — it already felt like schools were underfunded," she said. "We're just going to have to pick up a little bit more slack."

Bee staff writer Patty Guerra contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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