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Schools Add New Science Classes, Bus Route

With $180,000 earmarked for new classes and $25,000 for an early-morning bus service, a $46.8 million budget received preliminary approval Tuesday from the Laguna Beach school district board.

The 7.3 percent increase from the 2013-14 budget of $43.6 million is due to rising property taxes, the district’s primary revenue source, according to fiscal services director Shannon Soto.

Three new classes at the high school will focus on preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering, math and arts, said Dean West, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.

The courses are known as STEAM classes and are designed to meet a national initiative to improve students’ abilities primarily in the sciences while encouraging artistic creativity. West described them as “high-end” vocational education classes. The classes allow students to learn about a topic in-depth without emphasizing test scores, according to a school report.

A second STEAM class at Thurston is a year-long elective for eighth-graders that builds on the first STEAM class there this year and will teach robotics and building computer-controlled devices as well as creating computer programming, architectural plans and game design. While stressing proficiency in computer technology, Common Core classes include the hands-on application of computer designs into robots, models and other structures.

The new high school classes will build on the Thurston STEAM courses and include biotechnology, forensics, sports and veterinary medicine. They will emphasize technical writing based on citing evidence from texts, group problem-solving and clear communication skills. An environmental science class is also new to the curriculum.

The classes result from new state Common Core teaching and testing practices now being implemented by all four district schools. The expected $180,000 cost will be used for materials and staffing, said West.

Another new budget item, a pilot bus route from Aliso Viejo’s Audubon neighborhood, was suggested by parents and a teachers committee to support students of English as a second language, saidWest. The purpose of the early route is to encourage children to take a zero-period elective class to strengthen them academically, according to Soto.

The state now requires that school districts meet with school-related interest groups for input and draft annual goals and actions under a Local Control Accountability Plan. “In the LCAP process, we took a lot of input from parents, and that process itself was a major change in the budget process,” said West.

The special early bus route will deliver students to Thurston Middle School by 7:30 a.m. Parents of most of the eligible students are already en route to work at that time, said West, and wouldn’t be able to get their children to school that early. Other students enrolled in zero-period classes arrange their own transportation.

Another new expense of $380,000 is earmarked for updated furniture better suited for using electronic equipment and to accommodate students collaborating on solving problems using internet resources as part of the lesson plan.

The largest single expenditure in the preliminary budget is the $1-million-a-year upgrade plan for the district’s buildings and facilities. Every 10 years, the district reviews the state of its facilities and decides what work needs to be done, said West. The cornerstone project of the improvement plan, he said, is replacing the high school track and field over the next three years.

“We’re going to get as much useful life out of it as we can,” said West. “But at some point, it will need to be replaced. And there may be possible drainage needed underneath it as well.”

The district is assessing the state of its facilities and will formally present a final report in June.

The district also accepted several checks from Schoolpower and its endowment fund, a volunteer fundraising organization that supplements the district’s budget. The endowment fund contributed $182,417 for a strings music program, foreign language classes and teacher grants. Schoolpower contributed $297,560, which will be used to buy Chromebook and iPad carts, and Apple TVs and monitors for all four schools as well as to augment a kindergarten through eighth-grade music program, staff the zero-period class at Thurston and hire an additional counselor at the high school, among other uses.

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