No class size caps in proposed St. Paul teacher contract

Print

Just a week ago, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers planned a picket and rally at the district headquarters to stand united with parents in order to achieve class-size caps. The rally was to be held on Tuesday, January 31, but the day of the rally, it was called off. “Teachers reached a historic tentative contract agreement with the district which addresses attention to class size and special education students, and further strengthens the teacher support and evaluation system,” read a press release by Take Action Minnesota, that day. 

On February 7, the school district released the tentative agreement with the union, which does not include class size caps. Instead, they agreed to a class size range, including 20 or less for PreK, 22-28 for grades K-3, 25-30 for grades 4-6, 29-35 in core classes for grades 7-8, and 30-39 in core classes for grades 9-12. The class size language is not included in the contract itself, but is in a separate Memorandum of Understanding. 

The tentative agreement states:

“The District is committed to, that by the start of the 2013-14 school year, class sizes will, on average, be equal to the lowest number of the class size range indicated above. Both the District and the Federation understand that to achieve this, resources must be available to fund such class size numbers and that if such funding is not available the district would be unable to fulfill this commitment…” 

 

What the SPPS District office said

SPPS Superintendent Valeria Silva’s office sent a memorandum to principals explaining various contract provisions. In part, it read:

I’m happy to report that SPPS and the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has tentatively agreed on the terms of our teaching contract for the 2012/2013 school year.  SPFT President Mary Cathryn Ricker and I will be sharing more details of the agreement at a news conference today.  The Union now is meeting with teachers across the district to answer questions, then is planning to vote to ratify the agreement on Monday, Feb. 13.  

Here are the highlights of our agreement:

• The District agreed to a cost of living adjustment of 0.5% and to maintain the current contract steps and lanes – an acknowledgement that our teachers have one of the toughest and most important jobs on the planet, and that we want the District to be a competitive employer in the market for urban school district employees.

• As part of our final agreement with SPFT, we agreed to withdraw our previous proposal to add 10 minutes to the school day in exchange for the Union’s agreement to eliminate early release days.  This is great news for SPPS students.  With no early release days:

• Students will have approximately 16 more hours of instructional time and more continuity due to fewer disruptions to the regular school day calendar.

• Disruptions to family schedules are reduced, as are hundreds of dollars in potential child care costs that were necessary for younger children on Early Release Days.  

• The District strengthened its commitment to minimizing class sizes. Through a formal Memorandum of Understanding, we agreed to targeted class size averages that are consistent with our strategic plan. We did not take the approach of “capping” class sizes, because it could create challenging staffing and financial circumstances and inflexibilities for schools when just one new student arrives during the year in a specific grade.  We did agree, however, that the District will work toward class sizes that are on the lower end of the ranges noted in the Strong Schools, Strong Communities strategic plan.  

“We were going to rally a week ago around our ideas,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, President of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers. “We had a series of really productive conversations. That continued up until midnight Monday night.” The federation chose not to rally, because they came to an agreement, she said. “We realized we needed to focus all of our efforts on letting our members know we had gotten an agreement.”

The class size targets will be met at the very beginning of the school year, rather than having a grace period, said Ricker, with an aim to keep the average at the low end of the ranges. “There will be classes below the range and at the the top of the range. Nobody is interested in class sizes outside the top of the range.”

Besides the class size issue, the agreement includes “a robust expansion of our teacher support and evaluation program,” Ricker said. “Now every teacher, whether you are probationary or tenured, has access to the Peer Assistance and Review program. That’s a significant change.”

In addition, the district and the federation agreed to protect teachers in programs such as Montessori, language immersion, and American Indian magnet schools in layoff situations, “because we recognize their talents are unique and needed for the success of those programs,” she said.

The agreement also includes funding for the Union’s Teacher Home Visit Project, funded at $15,000 for this school year and $50,000 for 2012-13. This program supports teachers visiting homes of their students.

Funding will also go to an advisor at each high school for a program called the Future Educators of St. Paul, according to Ricker, “because we both understand if Minnesota is ever going to diversify our teaching profession, St. Paul students must take a leading role.” The advisor will be a classroom teacher who will choose to advise the teaching career exploration club, she said.

Among the other agreements are changes to the special education language that “improves our focus on students, while make sure we have time to meet requirements,” Ricker said, and converting early release days to student contact time, to “gain back over a day of student contact time.”

Finally, the teachers’ salaries will increase one half of a percent each year of the contract.

According to SPPS district spokesperson Toya Stewart Downey, the union will vote to ratify the contract on February 13.