District releases factfinding report on class sizes

District releases factfinding report on class sizes

Michele Ellson

School district officials and the union representing Alameda’s teachers followed the recommendations of an impartial factfinder when they inked an agreement to retain existing class sizes until a new contract deal is reached, the factfinder’s report, which was released Monday, showed.

“(T)he chair strongly recommends that the parties extend the class size relief provided in the current MOU through the conclusion of negotiations for a successor agreement,” Bonnie Prouty Castrey, the impartial chair of a three-member factfinding committee, wrote in the June 8 report.

Teachers approved the agreement, which maintains class sizes in kindergarten through third grade at 25 students per teacher until a new, three-year contract is signed, and sets a calendar for the upcoming school year, on Thursday. The school board is expected to vote on the agreement on June 26.

Prouty Castrey determined that the district made its case that it couldn’t afford to return class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 20 students per teacher, noting that the district was getting 78 percent of the state funding it should be receiving and that projected budgets show it will be engaging in deficit spending in three years. State funding accounts for the majority of most school districts’ revenues, including Alameda Unified.

The school district was represented on the three-person panel by Ron Bennett, president and chief executive officer of School Services of California, which bills itself as the “premier business, financial, management, and advocacy resource for educational agencies in California.” Alameda’s teachers were represented by Chuck King of the California Teachers Association.

Prouty Castrey wrote that the Alameda Education Association’s full bargaining team was not initially present at the hearing and that she ordered the team to attend “in order that following the hearing, the Panel would have full opportunity to explore options for settlement of this dispute in depth with both parties.” Her report also said the bargaining team left as the panel attempted to mediate a settlement in the class size dispute.

“Unfortunately prior to the Panel having an opportunity to fully explore the options and to prepare a 'Panel Chair's Proposal for a Mediated Settlement' for settlement of the dispute, members of the Association team had to leave and therefore this effort was prematurely terminated,” Prouty Castrey wrote.

The factfinding panel then sat down to review each side’s submissions and Prouty Castrey drafted the report, she wrote.

The district and the teachers’ union continued to negotiate, essentially agreeing to the panel’s report on June 12, an introductory note the district appended to the report said. The report was released within 10 days of its issuance as required by law.

If a deal had not been reached, the school board would have had the option to impose the district’s last best final offer on teachers, and union leaders said they would consider a strike if that happened.

"The most important point about this report, from my perspective, is that it gives us all a chance to step back and refocus on the facts we all face together. My hope is that in doing so, it will allow us to reset the conversation and have a dialogue based on the data at hand," Superintendent Kirsten Vital said. "We may not always agree on how to spend the money we have, but if we can agree on the limits of what's available to spend, together we can make the difficult but necessary decisions for our schools and our community."

AEA President Gray Harris did not respond to a request for comment.

District officials brought class sizes to the negotiating table in January 2011, against the union’s wishes. They asked the state to declare an impasse on the issue last November, sending it into mediation. The district and its teachers reached a tentative contract agreement in March, but teachers rejected it.

The district has argued it can’t afford to drop class sizes in kindergarten through third grade back to 20 students per teacher – something it would have been required to do if the agreement that temporarily allowed the larger class sizes lapsed on June 30 without a new class size deal.

District officials maintained that reducing K-3 class sizes back to 20 students per teacher would have cost the district between $897,023 and $5 million, depending on whether the state eliminates class size reduction funding. The teachers' union had argued that the district’s reserves contain more than enough money to cover the cost of smaller class sizes.

Negotiations for a new, three-year contract are set to resume in the fall.

Related: Teachers okay class size and calendar deal, averting strike

As state cuts funding, districts raise class sizes

District offers rationale for class size position

File Attachment(s):