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Squeezed like sardines

Hundreds of classes still above size limits

Mulgrew blasts Mayor Bloomberg for ignoring growing class sizes. Cara Metz

UFT President Michael Mulgrew on Sept. 26 blasts Mayor Bloomberg for ignoring growing class sizes in New York City at a press conference outside DOE headquarters.

Class-size limits under the union contract

  • 18 in pre-kindergarten
  • 25 in kindergarten
  • 32 in Grades 1– 6 in elementary schools
  • 30 in Title I junior high and middle schools.
  • 34 in academic classes in high school
  • 50 in physical education classes in middle and high schools
  • 50 in required music classes in high schools

Hundreds of classes in three Queens high schools were still oversize on Oct. 2, 18 days after the start of the 2013 school year.

Cardozo HS had the most egregious crowding: 130 oversize classes, said Chapter Leader Dino Sferrazza, with some classes packed with as many as 45 students — well above the 34 allowed under the contract.

Lunch periods start at 9:15 a.m., with some students having more than one lunch on their program according to Sferrazza, as Cardozo struggles to limit the number of students in a class. Teachers are frustrated by the transfer of students in and out of classes, and some students don’t give it their all in crowded classes, knowing they might be placed elsewhere, Sferrazza said.

Marilyn Beckford, the chapter leader at Hillcrest HS, said on Oct. 2 her school still had 200 oversize classes, some occupied by as many as 44 students. “We’re getting some new teachers soon,” she said. “We’re struggling to make this work.” At Forest Hills HS, Chapter Leader Adam Bergstein said 68 classes were still oversize as of Oct. 2.

City high schools with the most oversize classes.City high schools with the most oversize classes.

More than 230,000 students — about a quarter of the entire school system — spent part or all of their first few weeks of the 2013 school year in overcrowded classes, according to a UFT survey released on Sept. 26. At a press conference outside DOE headquarters the same day, UFT President Michael Mulgrew blasted Mayor Bloomberg for once again ignoring the needs of students who are stuck in oversize classrooms, depriving them of a quality educational experience.

State funds earmarked to reduce class sizes in city schools — some $400 million — have been used for other parts of the budget, he said.

“Hundreds of thousands of students start the school year in oversize classes — while many of them will stay in oversize classes for weeks or months,” Mulgrew said. “At the same time citywide averages for classes in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade are at the highest they have been in 14 years.”

By the 10th day of the school year — Sept. 20 — chapter leaders had filed grievances on 6,313 overcrowded classes, up from 6,133 last year. Nearly 800 of the classes were in the three large high schools that continue to struggle the most with overcrowding: Cardozo, Hillcrest and Forest Hills.

“It’s sad that we have, once again, more oversize classes than the year before,” Mulgrew said. “The mayor doesn’t understand or refuses to understand that students need to be in small classes.”

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, the Democratic candidate for city comptroller, joined Mulgrew at the conference. “We need to audit this issue come January 2014,” he said.

Stringer echoed Mulgrew’s concerns about crowded conditions in the early grades. “Kindergarten through 3rd grade is the most important time in a child’s life,” Stringer said. He added that these children are “languishing in oversize classes at a time when individual attention really matters.”

The UFT contract limits class sizes [see below]. Under the contract, principals have 10 school days to bring class sizes within contractual limits. In cases where administrators do not address the problem in that period, the UFT goes to arbitration on each class, a process that can stretch out for months.

Last year it took until May for the city to fix two oversize classes, Mulgrew said. “It can be done now,” he said. “For once, the mayor should do the right thing before leaving office and reduce class size now.”

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