LTA and district bargaining teams reviewed the district’s most recent budget, district counterproposals on MOUs, recommendations from the Class-Size Committee, and discussed why LTA feels current methods of calculating class sizes and class-size averages are having a negative impact on students and teachers.
On Thursday, December 13, the LTA Bargaining Team – Lisa Rubio (Huerta), Gary Moore (LMS), Jim Nadler (LMS), Justin Catalan (TOSA), Andrew Staiano (CTA staff), and Bargaining Chair, LTA VP of Contractual Affairs, Brian Guerrero (TOSA) – met with the LSD team – Hiacynth Martinez (Personnel), Kevin Franklin (Fiscal Services), Lissett Pichardo (LMS principal) and Steve Andelson (attorney). This was the third meeting between the two teams this bargaining cycle.
The meeting began with a review of the district’s First Interim Budget Report (presented to the School Board at the Tuesday, December 11, 2018 School Board meeting). This district’s stated goals for this year’s budget and the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 budgets included in the Multi-Year Projection are to reduce expenditures, avoid deficit spending, and increase the reserves from the current 3% (the minimum allowed by law) to between 6-7% (a number CTA has described as a reasonable buffer against economic uncertainties). Notably, the district is now including in its projections a decline in student enrollment (and a corresponding drop in ADA revenues), mostly because it is no longer automatically assuming Virtual Academy enrollment. This could mean the district is reconsidering the VA, or it could just mean that it doesn’t want to plan on those students/that money until the legality of dual-enrolling private school students in a public independent study program has been determined once and for all (LACOE and the state still haven’t said it’s okay… but they haven’t said it isn’t, either). Also worth noting – unlike in past years, when the district has only included expenses in its budget projections after they have been negotiated, this year’s First Interim assumes that all four current MOUs (improved health benefits, paid voluntary PD, elementary and middle school planning time, and lower class sizes) will continue in some form, and the estimated costs of continuing the MOUs have already been included in the MYP. So, when they project a 6.14% reserve in 2019-2020 and a 6.45% reserve in 2020-2021, the district is acknowledging that they can achieve an increase in reserves with the MOUs in place. The district says they are doing this because they, too, are interested in maintaining lower class sizes, planning time, paid professional development and better health benefits, BUT, they argue, if any new expenses were added to the budget (like a salary increase), the balance would break down and something would have to give. We’ll see. Your LTA Bargaining Team will continue to analyze the district’s budget, and in mid-January LTA will be sending a team to hear an overview of Governor Newsom’s proposed 2019-2020 state budget.
After reviewing the budget, the district team presented its initial counterproposals to LTA’s proposals on MOUs #2 and #3.
MOU #1 – Health Benefits
- No counterproposal yet as the district is still analyzing the cost implications of the MOU (over and above costs of regular, contractually-guaranteed health benefit levels) in light of 2018-2019 enrollment patterns.
MOU #2 – Paid Voluntary PD
- District proposes extending the MOU for 1 additional year (as opposed to 3 years as proposed by LTA).
- District proposes reducing the number of paid voluntary PD opportunities to 2, both in summer, and eliminating the 2 paid voluntary PD opportunities on Saturdays in fall/winter.
- District agrees that the LTA Instruction and Professional Development Committee (IPD) should give input on what professional development is needed and what topics would benefit teachers most.
MOU #3 – Planning Time, Elementary and Middle School
- District proposes extending the MOU for 1 additional year (as opposed to making planning time permanent as proposed by LTA).
- District agrees to add language guaranteeing SpEd preschool teachers the same amount of planning time as kindergarten teachers.
The two teams also reviewed the final recommendations of the LTA/LSD Class-Size Committee. Formed after negotiations concluded last year to continue the discussion on how programs like Dual Language and the effort to increase the time students with special need spend in general ed classes (i.e., “inclusion” and SAI) impact class sizes, the Class-Size Committee consisted of 5 teachers and 5 administrators and met a total of 4 times. The Class-Size Committee had no authority to reach any “agreements” but was tasked with trying to come to consensus and make recommendations on the DL and SpEd issues to the actual LTA and district bargaining teams. With regard to DL, the committee succeeded in reaching consensus and recommended that, at the elementary level, class-size averages for classes within the DL program and for those not in the program should be calculated separately (as if they were two distinct schools) and both should meet negotiated class-size average targets. Unfortunately, the committee was not able to reach consensus on SpEd issues. The administrators on the committee argued that, at the elementary level, only students who spend 50% of the day or more in general ed should appear on general ed teachers’ rosters, and that to put all students on general ed rosters, as suggested by teachers, might somehow reduce the services students with special needs receive or reduce the number of special ed teachers a school is allocated. Teachers continue to argue that services are determined by students’ IEPs, not which roster they appear on, and that by not including all students with special needs on general ed teachers’ rosters, the district is artificially pushing up class sizes in the very classes where students need the most individualized attention.
At the middle school, ever since QEIA ended, the district has been calculating the average class size by dividing the total number of classes offered each period by the total number of teachers teaching that period, excluding only 1 “functional skills” (SDC) class and 1 special ed teacher from the calculations. There are, however, several other special ed classes being taught each period (sometimes as many as 5), but because the students in those classes may only have 1 or 2 special ed classes out of 6, the district’s practice has been to call those classes “RSP” and include them in the overall class-size calculations. LTA has argued since this practice began that, because they tend to be much smaller than general ed classes, including these special ed classes in the overall class-size calculations unfairly inflates the size of all the general ed classes. LTA proposed correcting the way special ed classes are handled last year during bargaining, and we’d hoped to use the Class-Size Committee to demonstrate how the current practice negatively impacts both general ed students and students with IEPs, but administrators on the committee continued to argue that, because most students in special ed classes only have 1 or 2 special ed class, they’re RSP, not SDC, and their classes should be part of the overall average. Further, they argued that when a general ed teacher and a special ed teacher co-teach, both of those teachers should count toward the class-size average, despite the fact that one of those teachers is there specifically to support students with IEPs and their needs. The teachers on the committee continued to argue that all special ed classes – functional skills, SDC, RSP, etc. – and special ed co-teachers should be excluded from overall class-size average calculations because of the nature of their program and because of their necessarily small size, which, if lumped in with all the other classes, unfairly drives up the size of general ed classes and has a negative impact on students and teachers across the middle school. LTA absolutely supports efforts to create a more inclusive environment for students with special needs, but it cannot come at the cost of larger classes for general ed students, not at the elementary level and not at the middle school.
Finally, no proposals were exchanged regarding class-sizes (MOU #4), but the two teams engaged in an open discussion of the challenges in maintaining smaller class sizes, particularly in an environment where ongoing open enrollment is necessary to mitigate the threat of declining enrollment. The two teams discussed LTA’s feeling that the current over-enrollment flexibility has gone from an occasional remedy as it was originally intended to the new normal and an unfair burden on teachers, as well as other ways to add flexibility to the system without compromising instruction and the fact that, while mathematically it solves a lot of problems, no one thinks grade-level combos are a good idea (or even feasible) under the current standards and testing paradigm. Each team agreed to work on alternative models that might deal with their concerns and to share them at the next bargaining session. The teams will also have to consider the recommendation on DL made by the Class-Size Committee and how it would impact different class size models, and the outstanding issues around SpEd that the Class-Size Committee was unable to make recommendations on.
As always, the LTA Bargaining Team is committed to improving the learning environment for students and the working conditions for teachers. We understand the district’s budget constraints and applaud the ongoing cost-cutting efforts. We believe the bargaining process can, with members’ continued support and participation, result in achieving results teachers want and students need.
The two teams have scheduled their next bargaining session for Friday, January 25.