Teachers, district reach tentative agreement on class sizes and calendar
Alameda school district officials and the union representing the district’s teachers have reached a tentative accord on class sizes and on a calendar for the 2012-2013 school year, Superintendent Kirsten Vital announced Tuesday night, potentially heading off a threatened strike over class sizes. The deal heads to teachers for a vote Wednesday and on Thursday, students’ final day of school this year.
Vital said the union had agreed to accept a proposed calendar that its leadership had previously accepted in principle, which is posted at the district’s website. Under the tentative calendar, school would begin on August 27.
District officials and Alameda Education Association leadership had been engaged in a fact-finding process intended to fuel further negotiations on class sizes; a report from the fact-finding hearing held in late May has been issued and will be released publicly on Monday. Union leadership has said they could strike over class sizes if the school board opts to permanently impose larger class sizes in some grades. District officials had declared an impasse in negotiations in November.
Neither Vital nor Alameda Education Association President Gray Harris offered additional details on the tentative deal, though Harris said that it is separate from negotiations over a new, three-year contract. The union had previously reached a tentative contract accord with the district, though teachers voted that agreement down.
Class sizes in kindergarten through third grades and ninth grade were raised temporarily in 2009, but the agreement teachers signed allowing the larger class sizes is due to expire at the end of June.
District officials have sought to keep classes at or near current maximums – 25 students per teacher, up from 20, in K-3 and 35 students per teacher, up from 20, in grade 9 – saying they fear the state will stop funding its class size reduction program and that they won’t have the money to maintain it.
Union leaders have argued that the district have ample reserves to pay for smaller class sizes, though Harris told parents at a community meeting that the union had conceded the class size issue. The tentative agreement rejected by teachers would have allowed the district to keep K-3 class sizes at 25 students per teacher and to raise them to 30 students per teacher under a severe fiscal emergency, while high school classes would have maxed out at 34 students per teacher.
The new accord was reached one hour before the start of the public session of Tuesday’s school board meeting, where board members approved new contracts and tentative calendars for the district’s non-teaching employees. Non-teaching employees received 1.5 percent raises and one-time, 1 percent bonuses. The new contracts also contain “no strike” provisions forbidding non-teaching employees from engaging in sympathy and other strikes.
The board had been slated to consider a calendar for the first three months of the coming school year, though they held off in anticipation of teachers’ vote on the tentative agreement.
District officials have for months been pressing the union to sign off on a calendar for the coming school year. Union leaders had sought a broader agreement on teaching hours before assenting to a new calendar.
Relations between district leaders and teachers disintegrated over the course of the school year as district leaders released negotiation updates and bargaining proposals that union officials believed should have been kept confidential and teachers protested what they felt was a lack of progress and respect from the district in front of schools and at school board meetings. But all of that ceased after parents pleaded with both sides to take their fight back behind closed doors.
In other action, the board:
Board President Margie Sherratt said that while she supported staff’s assertion that the district office needs to move out of Alameda High School for safety reasons, she thought district leaders should consider leasing a smaller, less costly space and setting up some district operations in existing facilities. But Trustee Mike McMahon supported the move, calling it “an unexpected expense that we have to deal with because of health and safety issues.”