The Class Size Pas de Deux, Class Size Matters for Children, Defending High Class Size Is Foolish Policy, for Teachers, for Kids, and for the Mayor.

 In the fifty year history of the UFT one of the constants has been the battle to limit class size. It is a difficult, complex and frustrating battle.
 
 Class sizes limits  were  embedded in the collective bargaining agreement in the sixties . With the creation of the Public Employee Relation Board (PERB) a framework for negotiations was created that established mandatory/non-mandatory areas of negotiation. Class size falls outside the mandatory area.
 
Negotiations are divided into budgetary and non-budgetary areas, class size is in the budgetary area. The reduction of one student in each elementary school class in the city “costs” many, many tens of millions of dollars.
 
Rather than choosing between class size reductions or salary increases for members the union has sought to reduce class size through the city budget process. For example, for a period of years the city budget funded an early childhood class size reduction plan.
 
The mayor and the department have denigrated the importance of class size, quoting data. I refer you to Class Size Matters lead by Leonie Haimson, who is the champion of the battle to reduce class size; her site has links to research supporting the positive impact of lower class size.
 
Of course the mayor and the chancellor sent their kids to elite private schools with class size well below contractual class size limits.
 
The only way to enforce violations by management of particular articles of the contract is the grievance mechanism.  The contract originally included a four step grievance process: school, district, chancellor and arbitration. By the time a decision was rendered by an arbitrator it was so late in the school year that remedies were prospective
 
The current language in the CBA has speeded up the process,
 
Expedited Procedure for Class Size and Group Size Grievances
The parties are committed to resolving class size and group size grievances on an expedited basis. To that end, they have jointly adopted the appropriate and agreed upon standards for determining these cases in the hope that school administration and UFT representatives will be able to resolve many of these matters locally, without the need to resort to arbitration. The parties intend joint training to familiarize those involved with the cases in the agreed upon standards and the new procedure being adopted.
  1. During the first ten (10) school days of each term, the chapter leader and the principal shall attempt to resolve informally all class size and group size problems within the school. It is expected that during the first ten (10) school days, the principal will consult and seek assistance from the superintendent and the chapter leader will consult with the UFT district representative to attempt to resolve all class size and group size problems….
  2. If the principal and chapter leader cannot resolve class size and group size problems within the school, after the first ten (10) school days, the Union may file a demand for arbitration within two (2) school days of their failure to resolve the grievance….
  3. Arbitrations shall commence within five (5) school days of the demand for arbitration….
At the arbitration conference the arbitrator sustains the union, the department claims there is no space in the building or too late in the school year and promises to remedy by the next school year. And, lo and behold the dance begins again for the next school year.
 
In the Francis Lewis High School Class Size arbitration award the arbitrator ordered the department not to continue violations in the next school term.
 
School capacity is solely within the domain of the department. A number of Queens high schools have been severely overcrowded for  number of years. The department can, if it chooses, move boundary lines, “cap” schools at a predetermined number, or, do nothing to limit enrollment, extend sessions and add portable classrooms.
 
Once again Francis Lewis has numerous oversize classes,  UFT has gone to court and asked a judge to order the department to comply with the decision of the arbitrator.
 
If the department fails to comply with an order of the court the City/DOE can be held in civil contempt. The court has the power to order the chancellor jailed for failing to comply with a court order. The department response mirrored Captain Renault in Casablanca, (“I’m shocked, shocked that gambling going on here,” see video clip here),
 
“It is hard to understand why the UFT would prematurely rush to court when we’ve been working together, with an arbitrator, to find a sustainable solution for the school,” said a spokesman for the DOE in an email.
  
In May schools receive allocations, dollars based upon the Fair Student Funding formula. See Francis Lewis High School 10-11 budget here.  The principal, and his team converts FSF dollars into positions.
 
At the other end of the spectrum counselors meet with kids and design student programs. The sum total of student courses are converted into classes needed by license area and ultimately into teachers.
 
i. e., (1000 students need  Art/class size is 34/ teacher load five classes = six art teachers to stay within class size limits, or, five art teachers with some of the classes being oversize)
 
Do the dollars in the budget support the number of teachers required to offer all the courses planned by the counselors?  How many out-of-classroom (compensatory time jobs, i.e., deans, etc.) can the budget support? How many non-instructional, i.e., school secretaries, guidance counselors, school aides, etc., can the budget support?
 
Are sufficient rooms available to create classes?
 
If not, the principal can create more rooms by lengthening the school day, convincing the department to provide portable classrooms, or, increasing class size beyond contractual limits.
 
The Network Leader, the CFN team can advise/support the principal, the actual decisions are his/hers alone.  The superintendent exists, their role remains unclear, can they intervene and order the principal to take action to remedy class size grievances?
 
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
 
Kindergarten waiting lists, overcrowded high schools, oversize classes, and, abbreviated student schedules (limiting courses especially in the senior year) are totally unacceptable and all too common.
 
Allowing these issues to fester is unacceptable, in a mayoral control system the mayor must take actions to remedy these issues, there are no excuses.
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2 responses to “The Class Size Pas de Deux, Class Size Matters for Children, Defending High Class Size Is Foolish Policy, for Teachers, for Kids, and for the Mayor.

  1. There is no excuse for this continued failure to deal with over crowded schools. How many times do we need to ‘drive around the block’ before we fix this? Everyone knows that there is a problem so let’s fix it! This needs to be top priority!

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