Thursday, November 05, 2015

Class Size Hearing

Yesterday I went to a class size arbitration downtown Manhattan. I've done this a number of times over the years. The first time I went, I drove my car to Forest Hills, spent a half hour looking for a spot, and took the subway in. We finished early, I grabbed lunch and ran back to my school. I taught my afternoon classes, which put them a day ahead of my morning classes. That was inconvenient, but I worked it out somehow.

The second time I went, I spent another half hour parking at Forest Hills. I got called into a room at 10 AM, and an AP insisted she would fix all the dozens of oversized classes. I sat at American Arbitration Association until maybe 5 PM, when she called back and said they were fixed. I identified 17 classes that were not fixed, and got home around 9 PM.

Since then, I take the LIRR to the city for hearings. I come in at the end of rush hour, so the trains are not that crowded. I leisurely read a crappy novel on my iPhone all the way there and wished I had the luxury of taking the train to work every day. Of course, all the people I know who take the train to work hate doing it, hate the LIRR and I don't know what else, but driving is no picnic either. No matter how early I hit the LIE, 20 million other people hit it with me.

The first DOE lawyer I used to see was kind of bellicose and arrogant. I would say we have 56 oversized classes and she would say we had none. She seemed angry about it, too. I understand we're adversarial here, but I never really saw the point of being like that. The lawyer I saw yesterday must have received an upgrade or something. He was very matter of fact, which in my view, is pretty much the only way to be.

Still, I wouldn't want his job. He has to sit all day and argue about why there should be oversized classes. If there's some precedent for there being an oversized class, he has to cite it, and then state whether or not the precedent actually sets a precedent that must be followed. If it isn't, he has to argue they accept it anyway. And then, of course, if they don't accept it, he has to argue for an exception. You see, for some reason I will never understand, some schools are granted exceptions to class size rules. You didn't have any oversized classes for the last few years? Then an arbitrator may reward you by allowing some now.

I don't understand that. The Contract says 34 kids in a class. But if your principal has been a good boy or girl, there can be 35. Or 36. Who knows the mysterious ways of arbitrators? And apparently the arbitrators haven't got one of those all-important rubrics, because some will rule one way and others a different way on the same case. I myself grieved classes similar to those an arbitrator rejected last year, because who knows? Maybe this year's model will see the light and decide to help kids stuck in an oversized class on a technicality.

Now sure, you can say I'm just like the lawyer, arguing the other side. My District Rep. would jump on a precedent just like the DOE lawyer would, with my full support. And if it were a precedent that didn't have to be followed, I'd want him to follow it. If we could set a precedent that would make other kids sit through fewer classes of 35, or 51, or whatever, that would be great.

NYC still has the highest class size in the state, and hasn't budged in half a century. Every little bit helps, and I'm proud to do even a little bit, on the off chance that it will help. And sometimes it does.
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