Click photo to enlarge
Kindergartners pay attention to teacher Breianna Davis during class at Carl Munck Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Oct. 14, 2011. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

By the eighth week of school, kindergartners have, for the most part, stopped crying for their mothers. Students have settled into a routine, knowing what their teachers expect of them.

But in some Oakland schools, those routines will soon be upended. Next week, a small group of teachers will be transferred to other schools, a cost-saving measure to help the district out of a $1.4 million budget hole. Their students -- and, in some cases, other children at the affected schools -- will be sent to different classrooms.

One of those teachers is Breianna Davis. She teaches kindergarten at Carl B. Munck Elementary, a high-performing and majority-African-American school in the Oakland hills. Her class of 22 -- which, two years ago, would have been larger than average -- is now considered too small. As the newest teacher at her school, Davis will be transferred elsewhere. Her students, mostly 4 and 5, will go to different, more crowded classrooms.

"I have to come in today and explain to them, 'You're going to have new teachers,' " Davis said on Friday, before school. "This is a tragedy for our kids and for our community."


Advertisement

The staffing of schools is a challenge in many California districts, as administrators try to guess how many students will show up in each grade when the fall semester begins. In areas with high student mobility rates or changing enrollment patterns, it's especially complicated. Oakland school district officials wait weeks to make staffing changes, knowing that many students don't start school on time. This year, actual enrollment fell 400 students shy of projections, resulting in a $1.4 million deficit, said Troy Flint, the district's spokesman.

As funding cutbacks leave less wiggle room in school budgets, the numbers game is intensifying, leaving some students and teachers on the losing end.

"These are the hidden costs of budget cuts that people don't see," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland teachers union.

Bella Vista, Community United and Laurel elementary schools will also be forced to make a midyear shift. Four of the five Oakland teachers facing a relocation teach kindergarten. Bella Vista is losing both of its kindergarten teachers.

"Some of them have never been in any school before, and now they're going through this big upheaval," Carrie Johnston, a first-grade teacher at Bella Vista, said about the kindergartners. "We know it comes down to money. It just feels like they should figure out how to do this in a more humane way."

Brigitte Marshall, the school district's new human resources director, said the number of teachers originally slated for reassignment was at least three times as high. But while five might look like a small number on paper, the displacement of even one teacher can have a ripple effect.

At Munck, first-grade teachers will take in displaced kindergartners, forcing some first-graders into a newly formed, two-grade combination class. Some second-graders will displace third-graders, and "so on up the chain," Principal Denise Burroughs said at an impromptu meeting Friday with her supervisor and a group of parents.

"I can identify at least five very high-need children in that classroom," Burroughs said. "I am very concerned that I am now about to bump them into a K-1 combination."

Parents at Munck were so outraged about the announcement they held a news conference at the school, calling for a different solution to the shortfall.

"This is contrary to everything they give lip service about," said Anthony Haynes, acting president of the school's Dads Club.

Haynes said the club organized a group of volunteers to help out in the classroom; even before this latest development, the teachers were struggling to manage larger groups of students without aides.

"You see these kids?" asked Joe Perry, one parent volunteer, as he peaked into Davis' kindergarten class. "You tell me where they're going to be in 16 years because of this."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.ibabuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.