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Class sizes highest in a decade

UFT President Michael Mulgrew fields questions during a press conference announc Miller Photography

UFT President Michael Mulgrew fields questions during a press conference announcing approximately 7,000 oversize classes. 

A UFT survey indicates that by mid-September there were approximately 7,000 oversize classes in city public schools, a situation UFT President Michael Mulgrew termed “horrendous.”

Based on school registers for the sixth day of school, the latest figures top last year’s by nearly 1,000 and are the highest in a decade.

Blaming years of budget cuts and austerity for putting the city’s children educationally at risk, Mulgrew noted at a press conference outside Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS on Sept. 22, “Tens of thousands of children have started their school year in oversize classes as the system struggles to deal with increased enrollment and a shrinking teacher force.” 

With class size in elementary schools now the highest in 11 years, Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and a speaker at the press conference, called the situation “unconscionable: Third World conditions in the richest city in the world.”

She spoke of anguished calls from parents and teachers with 36 and 37 students in their classes and said, “Even the best teachers can’t do their best in classes that are too large.”

The only safeguard for the approximately 256,000 children now spending part or all of their instructional time in overcrowded classrooms is the UFT contract, which sets class-size limits.

“If the system has not reduced class size to contract limits by next week,” Mulgrew said, “the union will be seeking legal redress through arbitration in each and every case.”

Following up on that pledge, the UFT has initiated 4,000 class-size grievances to bring oversize classes to levels mandated in the contract. The remaining 3,000 oversize classes at the individual schools on Day 6 had been brought within contractual limits by the 10th day of school.

The UFT contract stipulates that class size cannot exceed the following: pre-kindergarten, 18 with a teacher and a paraprofessional; kindergarten, 25; grades 1-6, 32; JHS/MS, 33 in non-Title 1 schools and 30 in Title 1 schools; high school, 34; and physical education, 50.

As a result of budget cuts and principals’ decisions to use funds in other ways, class sizes have been on the rise while the number of classroom teachers has fallen, union officials noted. Last June the city’s Independent Budget Office reported that class sizes for kindergarten through 8th grade had risen for three consecutive years. 

Based on Department of Education records, this fall there were 73,784 classroom teachers, 2,443 fewer than in 2010, 4,000 fewer than in 2009 and 6,665 fewer than in 2008.

Class sizes highest in a decade - 2

Murry Bergtraum Chapter Leader John Elfrank-Dana described the situation of massive shuffling and reshuffling to bring the 104 oversize classes at his school into compliance as an “aftershock” that will only stabilize around Halloween. In the mean time, he said, “The time and energy lost is especially devastating to needy students.”

According to the UFT survey, which was based on Day 6 reporting from schools, 4,687 high school classes exceeded contractual limits. High schools with 100 or more oversize classes included: Benjamin Cardozo HS in Queens with 302 oversize classes; Long Island City HS in Queens with 207; Lehman HS in the Bronx with 270; Murry Bergtraum HS with 104; and John Dewey HS in Brooklyn with 102.

Queens also had the most oversize classes in elementary and junior high schools with 802. Brooklyn had 667; Manhattan, 285; Bronx, 355; and Staten Island, 182.

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