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New vehicle for schools with history of oversize classes

Through a recent arbitration ruling, the UFT was able to gain a new process to help schools with chronically oversize classes find solutions.

The union has the right to “carve out” a school from the expedited grievance process for classes over the contractual limit in order to seek a precedential decision it can rely on in other cases. The UFT exercised that right in the case of IS 72 on Staten Island, a school that has had classes over the contractual limit for many years. The arbitrator ruled, for the first time, that schools cannot rely indefinitely on action plans to address oversize classes. 

Because it was the first such ruling, the arbitrator urged the union and the Department of Education to jointly develop a remedy rather than having her impose one. Part of the remedy agreed to was the creation of a class-size labor-management committee that will focus on schools with similar chronic class-size issues. 

“It’s an opportunity we didn’t have before,” said Ellen Gallin Procida, the director of the UFT Grievance Department. “We will be attempting to find solutions, both short and long term, for schools that have had oversize classes year after year without resolving the situation.” 

Under existing contractual rules, schools with oversize classes are able to rely on exceptions for up to two years if, for example, they have no room to break up large classes or if they do not have enough students in an oversize class to create another class. After two years of relying on the contractual exceptions, schools must provide an action plan that addresses the oversize classes. 

But in some instances, schools have provided action plans for several years in a row and still not resolved the problem. In the IS 72 arbitration, the union successfully argued that action plans were meant to be short-term solutions and instead were becoming the rule.

The new labor-management committee will consist of three representatives appointed by the DOE and three appointed by the UFT. It will meet at the beginning of each term to address class size in a list of schools determined by the union. The committee met for the first time in late December.

Schools give up no rights when the committee reviews their cases, Gallin Procida said. The union can still go to arbitration if a resolution isn’t found through the labor-management committee.

The chapter leaders of two Queens high schools with chronically oversize classes welcomed the committee. 

“At the end of the day if you can expedite the process, it’s a win-win,” said Adam Bergstein, the chapter leader of Forest Hills HS. “The ability to still go to arbitration if the committee comes up with no resolution is a good safety net.”

In September, the union filed grievances for 210 oversize classes at Forest Hills HS, which had the most classes over the contractual limit in the city. The school has 4,000 students in a school building built for 2,400, Bergstein noted.

Bergstein said the root of the problem is the continual underfunding of larger schools like his. “We need more teachers,” he said.

Lucas Rule, the chapter leader at Pathways HS in St. Albans, Queens, was hopeful.

“Any step that takes you away from automatically going to arbitration can be a good thing,” Rule said. “One time we didn’t get the action plan until June.”

If schools like his resolve their problem through the committee, he said, “That frees up arbitration space, so other people can have their cases heard more quickly and find relief.”

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