Friday, October 22, 2010


The UFT contract gives principals the first ten school days of a semester to lower oversize classes. After that, the chapter leader grieves (I filed for 83 oversize classes for Jamaica High School) and a month later there is a hearing at the American Arbitration Association in Manhattan. It would be easy to assume that a month and a half is sufficient time to reduce all classes in a high school to the contractual limit of 34 pupils in a class. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen at Jamaica or many other schools that were also grieving oversize classes.

At the hearing this morning, the principal, who is represented by a DOE lawyer, said he can't fix many of the oversize classes. I don't think there is enough space to start new classes in part because two new schools opened inside our building that now occupy many rooms. But that is not the argument administration made. The DOE lawyer asserted over and over the half class size loophole in the contract as justification for oversize classes.

Remember the class size limit is 34 for high schools so a half class would be 17 or less. Without 18 additional pupils in a subject area, DOE can claim there aren't enough students to start a new class. Therefore, in reality the half class exception allows for class sizes to go as high as 51 in a New York City High School although an arbitrator several years back did limit its use. As of today we still have a subject class with 48 at Jamaica and almost 50 classes remain oversize. This cannot be justified and yet the DOE lawyer repeatedly asserted the half class exception and the arbitrator in response asked the DOE to do their best to fix the problem or otherwise he implied he would allow the half class exemption.

It was so bad that DOE even utilized the half class clause when there were two English as a Second Language classes, one had 35 students and the other had 18. Anyone could resolve this as all DOE had to do was move one student from the class of 35 to the class of 18. That’s simple, right? No, because they meet in different periods so administration claimed that resolving this problem would cause massive disruptions in programs. Therefore, they had to use the half class exception. The arbitrator, to my astonishment, seemed to accept this logic and when I objected the UFT District Representative saw the arbitrator getting a little angry at me so after a pro forma protest, the UFT moved the proceedings ahead.

DOE is not supposed to use the half class exception as a rule but that is exactly what they did. In addition, establishing a precedent that they are abusing the exception takes years.

At overcrowded Francis Lewis High School an arbitrator said administration had to stop using the exceptions allowed in the contract as a rule. This happened last school year but even then the UFT still had to go to court to force DOE into compliance and it didn't happen until this school year. My guess is next year Lewis will go back to normal and there will be many oversize classes again. At a school like Jamaica that has a much greater percentage of at risk students compared to Lewis, we have a huge problem with students being discharged. Unfortunately, administration can use this to their advantage in the class size reduction process.

Administration over-booked the classes, as they have for a number of years and then they will wait for student attrition to bring class size down for the spring when it will be in compliance with the contract. In the end, the UFT can never say that the exception has become the rule. Therefore, we have no remedy for oversize classes. At the arbitration today the UFT showed last fall’s award where the administration used the half class exception. The arbitrator seemed to ignore it.

It should be noted that our school has no Pupil Accounting Secretary in our Attendance Office so it is inevitable that we will lose pupils. Pushing kids out is no way to solve the oversize class problem but attrition is why we can't prove a pattern of oversize classes as high schools are still technically organized on a semester basis twice a year.

Sadly, the real losers in this silly game are the kids who are stuck in oversize classes until they can't take battling for a seat every day and so they stop attending class.

This problem could be easily resolved by putting an absolute cap in the contract but the UFT won’t even demand this kind of modest class size reduction. The DOE agreed to lower class sizes to around 25 in the high schools to settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit but they won't even enforce an absolute cap of 34 on their principals. Of course, DOE will still always blame the teachers when things go wrong in a school.

They will more than likely soon claim it’s our fault that at risk students can't learn in a class of 48 at Jamaica so they will probably try again to close the school and start another new small school. The new small school will then be provided sufficient funding for them to have class sizes capped in the twenties and then the DOE will declare that there is more proof that new small schools are better when scores improve. Meanwhile the next generation of at risk pupils will be moved to the next schools targeted for closure to be packed in oversize classes.

What is so frustrating is how the DOE continues to get away with abusing the class size limits. I saw this farce with my own eyes today.


Pissed Off!! said...

Nothing like a strong, intimidating union behind us, huh?

NYC Educator said...

Ironic that the geniuses observing Jamaica High School never say things like, "Gee, this school might run better if we didn't place 48 students in a classroom."

Anonymous said...

You need to mention that Jamaica's principal got rid of an experienced programmer last June to give the job to an assistant principal who clearly isn't up to the task.

Anonymous said...

James, back in the mid 90's the UFT won a major victory regarding class size infractions. An arbitrator ruled that they could NOT USE THE HALF CLASS EXCEPTION!!
The grievance department has that decision and you should insist upon having a copy. The DOE knows this all too well. The arbitration came out of the Bronx high schools Dave Shulman was the DR.

Anonymous said...


It's true what anon 8:56 is stating. In fact, Lynne Winderbaum, former Bx HS DR, informed all the chapter leaders of this ruling each and every time in the 1st 10 days of September and in February.

I feel that you need to get in contact with them for the actual ruling.

Anonymous said...

I just read this in Leonie Haimson's blogpage and I would like to share this with you.

James I might not belong to ICE, but I do support your efforts. You are an inspiration for many of the chapter leaders. Keep the faith and continue to fight!

Chaz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chaz said...

Anon 5:54

They don't call the Jamaica Principal "The Undertaker" for no reason.

Anonymous said...

Schools still get away with the exceptions but it is supposed to be limited. If they are trying to reduce the oversize classes, they get an exemption.

Anonymous said...

Do you guys from the Bronx really think the Tweedies care about some pre Klein arbitration that said they can't use the half class exception? As the case at Lewis showed, when they lose they don't follow the decision.

Anonymous said...

They used the exception at my school too. Classes as high as 38 I think.

Smellington G. Worthington III said...

I say, chaps, why this unholy obsession with size? At the Smellington Academy, we say, as many as fit in a room, and then four or five more! We get the job done without any of this contract nonsense.


Anonymous said...

Smellington you're the best. Run for UFT President please.

Lynne Winderbaum said...

I just noticed your discussion and here's some further info. In 1994, when I was a brand new chapter leader at Kennedy high school, the UFT had me appear with four other large Bronx high school chapter leaders in front of arbitrator Bonnie Weinstock. We testified to the routine use of the half-class exemption as a means to create oversized classes. She clearly ruled that when an exemption is routinely invoked, it becomes the rule rather than an exception. She imposed strict limits on future routine use of the exemption. Our contract has always held that arbitration decisions are in force and permanent. To my recollection, Joel Klein did sign our Collective Bargaining Agreement, though arbitral precedent has largely been ignored since the DOE took over from the BOE unless we go to court.

Anonymous said...

Just received a letter from my principal:

Please be advised that, for the Spring 2012 semester, you class (class code) is over the limit. The NYCDOE has elected to invoke the 1/2 class exception, which the arbitrator accepted in case # A-077-C18698.

It is a joke that we are accountable as teachers, but DOE can be so irresponsible!