La Jolla Elementary School uses ‘rainy day’ funds to construct two new classrooms

By Pat Sherman

Parents at La Jolla Elementary School (LJES) are teaching students a thing or two about the value of setting money aside for a rainy day.

Money that the Friends of La Jolla Elementary School foundation has been setting aside to bear the brunt of a “worst case” budget cuts scenario is now being used to fund the installation of two new classrooms at the school. Construction on the project began last week.

Foundation board president Alexa Scoma said money has been accumulating in the foundation reserves from its annual giving program and gala, as well the events such as the Sunday Open Aire Market.

In the current school year, the foundation has spent a record amount on support teachers and enrichment programs not covered by the district, such as technology, art, music and additional library hours, Scoma said.

Meanwhile, class size in grades K-2 was increased from 24 to 27 students per teacher this year, Scoma said. To many parents’ chagrin, class sizes in some third through fifth grade classes had a ratio of 34 students per teacher at the beginning of the school year.

Enrollment at La Jolla Elementary has increased by about 100 students in the past five years.

“I believe we have the best teachers in the county,” Scoma said, “but no matter how good you are, it’s impossible to teach effectively if you have 34 students.”

The school also needed to hire a new fourth grade teacher this year, but had nowhere for them to teach.

To come up with a solution, the foundation reached out to the San Diego Unified School District 18 months ago.

With the assistance of La Jolla Elementary School Principal Donna Tripi, foundation member Marcy Holthus and parent Mike Elliot (who has 20 years of construction experience), the school persuaded the district to donate two unused bungalows at Mission Bay High School, which will serve as standalone classrooms.

The foundation is paying to build foundations for the structures, add plumbing and electricity and refurbish and repaint them.

The bungalows should be in place and remodeled by April, Scoma said. The foundation’s school site council will offer input on how they will be used, though it will depend upon the school’s needs at that time, Tripi said, noting that one bungalow could potentially be used as a dedicated art room. She declined to provide the pricetag for the projects.