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Class size compromise – SFSD, SFEA reach negotiated solution

By Stephen Floyd

Teachers won their class size targets and administrators kept their management flexibility in a tentative contract approved April 18 between The Silver Falls School District (SFSD) and Silver Falls Education Association (SFEA).

The tentative contract was the result of a year of bargaining that saw the parties split on issues of class size, teacher pay, grievances and similar issues. The proposal was finalized at 12:30 a.m. April 18 after a 15-hour mediation session that began the day before.

SFEA members and the SFSD Board must still vote to ratify the contract. The union was expected to consider the matter by late April, while the board could consider the proposal during its next business meeting May 8.

If approved, the contract would be retroactive to the start of this school year, including pay increases, and would expire in 2025.

If a tentative agreement had not been reached, both parties would have been required to accept or reject final proposals April 23. If offers were rejected, the union would have been able to strike.

The proposed contract requires the district to publish class size targets before each school year, and defines a process to address class size challenges.

The targets themselves are defined in a separate memorandum that can be adjusted without re-opening the contract though a committee of teachers and administrators.

Though specific class sizes did not appear in the tentative contract, SFSD said on Facebook the proposal was “the contract our members deserve.”

“Thank you so much to our members and the community for your outpouring of support through the whole process!” said the union.

Shortly afterward negotiations concluded, Assistant Superintendent Dan Busch sent an email to all district staff announcing the decision and thanking those involved.

“Thank you for the hard work and late hours to see this work through,” said Busch.

The tentative agreement said principals and union representatives would work together before each school year to identify potential class size problems based on projected enrollment and staffing. A Class Size Committee would also be created with two union representatives and two appointees of the superintendent to discuss potential class size issues and recommend solutions.

Teachers whose classes exceeded these targets as of Oct. 1 could explore solutions with their principal. Solutions included reassignment of students, restructuring of classrooms, addition to teaching aides, or additional substitute days for teachers to complete out-of-classroom work.

If these potential solutions do not satisfy the problem, a teacher may appeal to the Class Size Committee and must specify why the remedy did not meet their needs. 

If the committee decides the solution was inadequate, the teacher would receive a 1.5 percent pay increase, to be paid out of a $30,000 annual pool. Pay increases would end if the pool ran out.

In anticipation of the tentative contract being ratified, SFSD and SFEA entered into a memorandum of agreement, defining class size targets starting the 2023-2024 school year. These targets include:

• 22 students per class in kindergarten.

• 24 students per class in 1st and 2nd grades.

• 26 students per class in 3rd through 5th grades.

• 28 students per class for 6th through 8th grades in self-contained classrooms.

• 180 student contacts per day for most 6th through 12th grade teachers with departmentalized classrooms.

• Between 40 and 60 students assigned to service specialists.

• 350 students assigned to counselors.

The memorandum said the Class Size Committee would meet March 15, 2024, to review these targets and consider any necessary changes. The agreement would expire July 1, 2025, unless otherwise renewed.

Also in the tentative contract was a 5.8 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for the current school year, to be paid retroactively upon the date of ratification. Pay increases would be staggered the next two years, with 1.25 percent COLA the first half of the 2023-2024 school year and again in the second half, then a 1.5 percent COLA the first half of the 2024-2025 school year and again in the second half.

For grievances, parties agreed to a proposal where a grievant would submit a written complaint to a principal or appropriate administrator and a decision would be rendered within ten days. The decision could be appealed to the superintendent, then the School Board, and finally to an arbiter. 

Specifically except from this process were grievances regarding the dismissal or contract termination of teacher, which would be resolved with existing state policy.

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