Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Class Size in the UFT Contract

You probably think that your administration is bound to keep class sizes to the contractual minimum. I used to think that too. I'm a high school teacher and the contractual language is crystal clear. From Article 7, M, 2. b:

No homeroom or official or subject class in senior high school shall exceed 34 pupils, except as specified in 3 below. This shall not be accomplished by an increase in the size of classes for the non-college bound students.

So what is this "3 below?"

An acceptable reason for exceeding the maximum class size limitations listed in paragraphs 1b through 2g above may be any of the following:

  1. There is no space available to permit scheduling of any additional class or classes in order to reduce class size.
  2. Conformity to the class size objective would result in placing additional classes on short time schedule.
  3. Conformity to the class size objective would result in the organization of half-classes.
  4. A class larger than the maximum is necessary or desirable in order to provide for specialized or experimental instruction, or for IGC instruction, or for placement of pupils in a subject class of which there is only one on a grade.
In the event that it is necessary to assign a teacher to a class which exceeds the maximum size listed above, the principal shall stipulate the reason in writing to the teacher and to the Chancellor. Such statement of reasons may be available for examination by the Union in the Office of the Chancellor.

So it sounds like there are a lot of ways to circumvent the rule.  They can grant an exception. However, exceptions ought not to prove a rule, and they aren't granted over and over again. So in a school like mine, where there are perpetually issues, where I go to Manhattan twice a year to grieve class sizes, careful planning ought to preclude these issues. What happens when that doesn't occur? For that, you have to go to Article 22G, 2, j:

If the Board asserts that it cannot comply with the arbitrator's award, it must set forth a plan of action to remedy the class size or group size violation. If the Board has acted in good faith, and the plan of action is not unreasonable, it will be accepted by the arbitrator.

Now this is where things get really sticky.  A year or two ago I heard about several local Queens high schools that had dozens of oversized classes. The arbitrator, rather than lower class sizes in any way, decided to release all the affected teachers from daily C6 assignments. I personally found that outrageous. Perhaps some teachers were happy not having to go tutor, or tend the book room, or whatever it was they were supposed to do that period. But it certainly didn't alleviate the issues with oversized classes.

I was pretty happy that didn't happen in my school, until of course it did. And when you enter the slippery slope of accepting nonsense as a "plan of action," you find the nonsense mounts rapidly. Thus teachers at my school were told they would get only one period off from C6 activity per week. That's outrageous. And when I went to count oversized classes, I found that there were maybe 20 new ones since the arbitrator ruled.

I ran around like a crazy person and dragged 6 teachers to computers to file grievances. It would have been 7, but the worst offense was done to a probationary teacher, and I thought having a grievance in her file might be frowned upon by the superintendent come tenure time. I've seen superintendents do way worse than that, in fact. A friend of mine, in fact, reported improprieties in testing and was discontinued.

I don't know what they're thinking over at 52 Broadway, because I'm not privy to what goes on in their Sacred Cone of Silence. But I can tell you, if they want members to continue paying $1200 a year after Trump Right to Works us they'd best not leave stuff like this on the back burner.

Teacher: What? I don't have to pay a hundred bucks a month to the union?

Me: Yes, but that may weaken us and our Contract.

Teacher: UFT left 37 kids in my class and gave me one period a week off from tutoring. I tutored anyway. My 37 kids needed more help, not less.

Is that the sort of conversation UFT leadership envisions when dues become optional?  If it isn't, they'd better take off those rose-colored glasses and wake up.  We have the highest class sizes in the state, we haven't moved to improve them in half a century, and teaching a class at maximum is already quite challenging.

Arbitrators who think they can just toss teachers a marshmallow and collect oversized paychecks from us are gonna need to think twice. And so should UFT leadership. One absolutely predictable alternative is teachers looking at dues, refusing to pay, and not even giving it a second thought. Times have changed and if we aren't thinking ahead we aren't thinking at all.
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