RICHMOND -- Flush with the promise of additional state funds, West Contra Costa schools trustees added more spending before approving a $186 million 2013-14 budget Wednesday evening.
The board added about $2.5 million next year to speed up reducing the number of students per class in kindergarten through third grade.
The investment will enable the district to reduce K-3 class sizes to 26 students per class in the 2013-14 school year from 28 this year.
Trustees plan to spend about $2.5 million again in 2014-15 to reduce the average size of classes for the youngest students to 24, adding about 60 new K-3 teachers over the two years.
The schedule accelerates new state guidelines that require reducing average K-3 class sizes to 24 over the eight years.
Several speakers at the meeting urged the board to make class size reduction a priority.
"When we went from 20 students per class to 28, it took the fun out of teaching for me," said Susan Billings, who teaches second grade at Kensington Elementary.
Billings cited a recent class where she found it was difficult to deal with the needs of a group of 28 "lively boys" and "quiet girls" simultaneously.
"The state is stretching it out to 2020 or 2022, but the kids need (smaller classes) sooner," she said.
Ben Steinberg, who has a daughter in the second grade at Mira Vista Elementary in Richmond, said smaller classes help teachers do a better job with students at "both ends of the achievement spectrum" simultaneously.
Other speakers cited the beneficial effects of lower class sizes in reducing the "achievement gap" between students from low- and high-income neighborhoods.
The achievement gap was cited most often as West Contra Costa's main problem in recent town hall meetings to help formulate a new district strategic plan.
Trustee Todd Groves was the lone voice questioning the value of class size reduction at the meeting, although he voted with the rest of the board for the spending.
He said the district dropped K-3 class sizes from 30 to 20 in 1996, with no noticeable change in achievement at the secondary level.
"I don't believe that class size reduction is a large component in increasing student achievement," Groves said.
The school board also voted to spend $450,000 next year for two more school resource officers, police officers who work at secondary campuses full-time, in Richmond.
Richmond's five middle and high schools will have eight resource officers compared with three at two schools in El Cerrito.
The officers are able to respond quickly to on-campus violence, establish better relations between police and students and help investigate and reduce truancy, according to the district.
Trustees also approved $4 million over the next two years for repairs to schools, money that was previously being taken from the school construction program.
Voters approved school construction bonds for building and renovating schools, not doing repairs to existing buildings, said trustee Charles Ramsey.
Groves agreed, saying, "It doesn't make sense to use bond money for operating expenses."
Assistant Superintendent for Business Sheri Gamba said the district is expecting about $6.5 million more from the state under the so-called Local Control Funding Formula as part of the 2013-14 state budget passed by the Legislature on June 15 and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week.
The plan directs more money to districts, such as West Contra Costa, with large numbers of students from low-income neighborhoods.
The 2013-14 West Contra Costa budget would have to draw more than $10 million from reserves without the new state funding increment.
Gamba said the funding formula will in place at the board's July 24 meeting so it can consider new information from the state.
"We'll have a better picture of what we're going to get by (July 24)," Groves said.