Press releases

UFT survey finds nearly 7,000 oversize classes as NYC school year opens

An estimated 250,000 students spending all or part of each day in overcrowded classrooms

A teachers’ union survey of New York City public schools has shown that in mid-September the system had 6,978 general education classes with more children than are permitted under the UFT’s contract with the city’s Department of Education. Based on these reports, the UFT estimates that approximately 256,000 children were spending part of their day — in some cases all of their instructional day — in overcrowded classrooms.

According to the UFT survey, there were 4,687 oversize high school classes in the city during the survey period. High schools at the time of survey with 100 or more overcrowded classes included:

Queens: Benjamin Cardozo, 302; Long Island City, 207
Bronx: Lehman, 270
Manhattan: Murry Bergtraum, 104
Brooklyn: John Dewey, 102

Queens also led in the number of oversize classes in elementary and junior high schools with 802; Brooklyn elementary and junior high schools had 667 oversize classes; Manhattan, 285; Bronx 355; and Staten Island, 182. Elementary and middle schools with large numbers of overcrowded classes included Petrides in Staten Island with 44; MS 210 in Queens with 43; Bronx PS 83 with 33; Brooklyn’s IS 318 with 31 and PS 169 with 24.

The survey was based on school registers for Day 6 of the school year. The number of oversize classes this year was nearly 1,000 more than for the same period last year.

(The figures for this year do not include approximately 200 oversize special education classes in violation of state regulations; these cases will be appealed to the DOE and if necessary to the state.)

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said:

“Years of budget cuts and austerity are catching up with New York City’s public schools. 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.”

“While the administration has repeatedly made it clear that small classes are not a management priority, the UFT contract gives us a legal tool to enforce class size limits. If the system has not reduced class sizes to their contract limits by next week, the union will be seeking legal redress through arbitration in each and every case.”

Class size limits in the UFT contract are: pre-kindergarten: 18 students with a teacher and a paraprofessional; kindergarten: 25 students; grades 1-6: 32 students; JHS/MS: 33 students in non-Title I schools; 30 in Title I schools; high school: 34 students; 50 in physical education/gym.

In prior years, special funding from the state and the city had helped reduce many classes to levels below the contract limit. However, with declines in funding and principals’ decisions to use these funds in other ways, class sizes have been rising. Last June the city’s Independent Budget Office reported that class sizes for kindergarten through eighth grade had risen for three consecutive years.

The number of classroom teachers has fallen as class sizes have risen. Based on the system’s records, this fall there were 73,784 classroom teachers, compared with 76,127 in 2010; 77,784 in 2009 and 80,649 in 2008.

The estimate of 256,000 students spending part or all of their day in overcrowded classes is based on an assumption that the average number of students in oversize classes in the high schools is 38, and the average for K-8 classes is 34.

Because arbitrators’ rulings are enforceable in court, the system generally lowers class sizes as hearing dates approach. However, because the hearings are scheduled over a number of weeks, some large classes remain so for weeks; the contract also permits certain exceptions, meaning that some classes remain oversize the entire semester.

In September 2010 the UFT went to State Supreme Court to force the Department of Education to reduce class sizes at Francis Lewis High School. The school, which has been overcapacity for several years, had kept some 2,000 students in oversize classes for an entire semester, in defiance of an arbitrator’s ruling that class size had to be reduced.

In January 2010, the UFT, the NAACP, the Hispanic Federation, Class Size Matters and other groups sued the Department of Education, charging that the DOE had ignored its obligation to use more than $760 million in special state funds under the Contract for Excellence to reduce class sizes.

Last July the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, while not ruling on the merits of the argument, said that the issue of the use or misuse of the funds fell under the jurisdiction of the state Education Department rather than the courts.

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