Monday, April 17, 2017

On Class Size and Contract

Readers of this blog may recall that, along with my MORE-New Action high school colleagues, I introduced a class size resolution to the UFT Executive Board last December. I did this in response to an outrageous ruling by an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled that every teacher at Francis Lewis High School with oversized classes be relieved for one C6 period per week.

Evidently, the arbitrator believed an extra 40 minutes of prep time would compensate for having class sizes above 34. (Amazingly, the same arbitrator said Forest Hills would get one C6 period per oversized class, so if you had two oversized classes there, you got two C6 periods off, as opposed to the one you'd get at Lewis.)

I was just a little upset by that, and that's why I worked on that resolution. Predictably, Unity Caucus rejected our resolution outright. The reason they gave was that "we" had sacrificed so as to place class size in the contract. I found that argument ridiculous, as that happened 50 years ago when almost none of us were in the system, and when a whole lot of people in the room had not even been born.

So there I was, with an absurd ruling from a $1600 a day arbitrator, and with union leadership essentially siding with her, telling me she had made rulings that were not insane in the past. While I was encouraged to hear she'd had lucid moments, I was still outraged by the ruling. I decided to write it up and send it to the Daily News, and what do you know, they published it.

While UFT leadership did not accept the resolution, they had formed a committee to meet and discuss class sizes. Now it's great to talk about this stuff and try to work it out, but meanwhile we were still stuck with the stupid ruling from the arbitrator. UFT, my administration and I had a few meetings about this, and I contended if we were to have an action plan for oversized classes, it ought to demand a second qualified subject teacher help with them. For example, if I had 38 students, maybe a certified ESL teacher could take the students most in need of targeted assistance somewhere in the building and offer them assistance.

Of course we still had oversized classes in February, and UFT filed a grievance on our behalf. I received the rulings for Francis Lewis, Flushing, Hillcrest and Forest Hills and they are identical. Arbitrator Jay M. Siegel ordered that all schools reduce class sizes and come into compliance. He ordered, if it were necessary, that the schools create additional classes to do so.

My UFT contact told me this was the strongest language he'd ever seen. I'm happy about that, because honestly, this is how it should be done. If principals think they can overcrowd hundreds of classes and they'll lose one day of tutoring, why the hell shouldn't they continue to do so? How does it affect their bottom line? I don't see it.

If, on the other hand, principals know they can be ordered into compliance, it's a different issue. Principals may think twice before oversizing classes. Of course that ruling is only four schools, and I can't say how reflective it is of the city as a whole. I cannot say for sure that my Daily News article had any influence, and UFT leadership cannot say for sure that the committee changed anything. Maybe we're both right. Maybe we're both wrong.

Regardless of what happened or why, I'm glad of the result. I have differences with leadership, but this isn't one of them. I hope this is replicated all over the city.
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