Teachers okay class size and calendar deal, averting strike

Teachers okay class size and calendar deal, averting strike

Michele Ellson

Alameda's teachers have voted to approve a class size and calendar accord their union leaders reached with district officials on Tuesday evening, ending - for now - the threat of a strike over class sizes and providing families a start date for the upcoming school year.

The deal, approved by teachers just hours after the official start of summer for Alameda's public school students, allows the school district to maintain class sizes in kindergarten through third grade at 25 students per teacher until a full contract is settled and sets a calendar for the 2012-2013 school year and to raise them if a severe fiscal emergency is declared, according to a press release issued by the school district. The agreement also gives teachers one additional paid work day and sets a process for creating a new school calendar for 2013-2014 that would set the calendar by the end of January 2013, press releases issued by the district and the Alameda Education Association said. Bargaining over a new, three-year contract is to resume in the fall, the release said.

A copy of the agreement, which the Board of Education is expected to consider on June 26, was not available Thursday evening. But approval of the agreement by both sides will mean that teachers can't strike on the issues it resolves, and the district cannot impose class size conditions or a calendar.

If the board okays the agreement, the upcoming school year will begin on August 27.

“I want to thank our Bargaining Team, Organizing Team and Executive Board for their hard work and determination in coming to this agreement,” AEA president Gray Harris was quoted as saying in AEA's release. “I want to thank our teachers for another demonstration of our dedication to the educational community in Alameda."

"We look forward to a positive result in the November election so that AUSD can make teachers a priority by putting their resources in the classrooms for teachers and students,” Harris was quoted as saying, though the release didn't indicate what she believed that "positive result" would be and Harris couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said she was "thrilled" class size and calendar issues have been resolved and that she greatly appreciated the perseverance of negotiating teams on both side of the table.

“It is important that students, families, teachers and staff now know that we will not have to divert 180 students from their neighborhood elementary schools as we would have had to do if we reverted from K-3 class sizes maximums of 25 to 20. It is also reassuring for all in the community to know the date when we open school next fall and to know we have a process to ensure that we will agree on a calendar in a timely fashion for the following year," Vital said in an e-mail response to a request for comment. "I am hopeful that this agreement is also a sign that next year our ongoing successor negotiations over the new contract will reach a fair and prompt resolution.”

Union leaders had alternately threatened to strike if the school board imposed new class size rules and called them settled. District officials asked the state to declare an impasse over class sizes in November 2011 after opening negotiations in January, sending the matter into mediation. A fact-finding report on class sizes, which was to fuel additional mediation, has been issued and will be publicly released on Monday.

Teachers had agreed in 2009 to temporarily allow the district to raise K-3 class sizes to 25 students per teacher from 20 in order to address state funding cuts. But district leaders sought to make the higher class sizes permanent.

District and union leaders had agreed in principle on a calendar but the union held off on approving it, in an effort to reach an agreement on a contract article spelling out teaching hours. The school board had been slated to consider imposing a contract for the first three months of the upcoming school year until the tentative agreement was reached, hours before they were to consider the move.

District and union leaders reached a tentative contract agreement in March, but teachers voted it down by a two to one margin. The union's release notes teachers' rising health care costs and their pay, which is is nearly the lowest in the county. But it doesn't say what if anything the union might seek at the bargaining table in the fall.