“Having manageable class size is of vital importance to teachers so I’m glad to see that we are moving in the right direction,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
The UFT–Department of Education contract sets strict class-size limits [see chart at right]. Under an expedited arbitration process, schools have 10 school days to resolve class-size overages. In cases in which classes aren’t brought into compliance with the contract, the union goes to arbitration. The arbitrator hears the cases of five schools per day, so addressing all the overage issues takes months.
This year’s improvement was due in part to a new process set up in January to help schools with chronically oversize classes find solutions, said UFT Grievance Director Ellen Gallin-Procida. An arbitration ruling led to the creation of a labor-management committee that focuses on resolving overages in schools with a history of oversize classes. The arbitrator agreed with the UFT that school action plans were supposed to be only a “short-term remedy” and “continued reliance on action plans to avoid compliance violates the teachers’ rights.”
Adam Bergstein, the chapter leader at Forest Hills HS, said the number of oversize classes reported on Day 10 at his school dropped from 210 last September to eight this year.
“The labor-management committee has made a huge difference in our ability to address the problem,” he said.
This spring, the new labor-management committee discussed the persistent class size issues at PS 861 on Staten Island. Thanks to that focus, the number of oversize classes at the school dropped from 14 on Day 10 last year to none on Day 10 this year.
“This year we got it done,” said Chapter Leader Brian R. Van Nostrand. “Everything worked out.”
The UFT secured Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s commitment to resolve the problem of oversize classes as early in the year as possible, Gallin-Procida said.
As part of that effort, the union asked chapter leaders to let their district representatives know if there was a viable solution that could bring their school into compliance on class size that had not been implemented by the administration — for example, equalizing registers in a particular grade or if there was space in the building to create an additional class.
But where overcrowding persists in the school system, it continues to take a heavy toll.
Cardozo HS in Queens had 242 oversize classes on Day 10 this year, up from 148 classes last year.
Chapter Leader Dino Sferrazza decried the disruption caused by oversize classes and the shuffling required in the first weeks of school to equalize registers.
“Students spend the better part of the month in one class, and then they get switched out,” he said.
“They never give you what you need,” said Sferrazza, referring to the DOE. “We were given a new assistant principal, but what we need are teachers.”
Sferrazza said the school of 3,729 students could use two teachers in Spanish, three in special education, and one each in math and social studies.