School vs. Play

Last year, the San Francisco School Board passed the Educational Equity Act, which sets limits on some school class sizes and created an immediate -- mostly positive -- public reaction.

The state Legislature quickly passed a similar measure that reimburses school districts for the cost of reducing class size to 20 students per teacher for kindergarten through second-grade classes. (On average, there were more than 30 students per teacher in those grades in San Francisco.)

The move to reduce class sizes was hailed by many educators as the best thing to happen to public schools since the introduction of hot lunches. Smaller classes mean more attention from teachers, more repetition for children, more opportunity for learning.

But the class-size revolution also created a crisis in San Francisco. Reducing class sizes requires more classrooms, and the San Francisco Unified School District is out of space and out of money to build more schools. There are already portable classrooms on playgrounds and in a variety of other bizarre locations all over the city.

And even as class sizes are reduced, the San Francisco school district must continue to follow federal court mandates on the ethnic makeup of its student population. Without money to build more classrooms and hire more teachers, the move toward smaller class sizes will -- perversely -- force ever more children into a cross-town busing program that has, by most objective measures, degraded the education of children.

In an attempt to deal with the double dilemma of class size and desegregation, the school district will ask voters in June to approve a $90 million bond issue that would build and renovate classrooms and assuage other physical ills of the district.

The school bond program is on the same ballot as a $100 million bond measure that would help the San Francisco 49ers build a massive new stadium in Bayview-Hunters Point. The stadium has captured the attention of the city's movers and shakers, from Mayor Willie Brown to the major media punditocracy. The school bond issue has gone virtually unremarked.

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