2015-10-01 / Front Page

Class Size Remains An Issue

By Olga Enger

As the school year moves into its second month, the Teachers Association of Newport (TAN) and the district have been unable to reach an agreement on a new teachers contract. Arbitration has been scheduled for Oct. 19.

“At this point in time there are obviously some differences. As to what those differences are, we will learn in arbitration,” said Superintendent Colleen Jermain.

“The only issue that separates us is class size," said Jennifer Azevedo, attorney with the National Education Association (NEA).

Mary Ann Carroll, the negotiator for the Newport School Committee, argued the interpretation of the agreement changed when the negotiators changed. NEA attorney Patrick Crowley, who was handling the negotiations for the union until March, left to take another job and was replaced by Azevedo.

“Things were moving forward. Patrick was good. We only had two or maybe three sessions before we reached an agreement,” said Carroll.

The proposed contract would allow for classes of up to 27 students at the elementary level, and compensate a teacher an additional $15 per day for each student over 24. Any class larger than 16 students also requires a teacher aide.

At the secondary level, which has a rotating schedule, teachers would be compensated $6 per day for each student that attends a one-hour class.

Azevedo said that was negotiated with the understanding the class size would be adjusted once school starts. “We negotiated compensation for overages, contemplating kids that come in October or November. Obviously you aren’t going to open a new class then,” she said.

Jermain said a high honors precalculus class has too many students under the existing contract, but it is "virtually impossible” to hire another teacher since the class is on a rotating schedule and not taught at the same time every day.

“We were instructed to remove the overage of the children,” said Jermain. Although the teacher has not raised concerns, the union requires the district to reduce the class size, she added.

Azevedo said the superintendent is not being “completely honest” because she has other options to provide instruction.

The district recently added a third-grade class to avoid overages under the existing contract, but that did not impact the proposal.

"The offer is a package deal. They must accept the terms with the existing language," said Carroll. She added that Newport class sizes are smaller than the state average, which is a 25 maximum for elementary and 26/27 for middle and high schools.

The only concession in the proposal apart from class size concerns lifetime medical benefits, which are currently offered to retired employees and spouses. The proposal would eliminate benefits at age 65.

“We reached an agreement for how that would be handled,” Azevedo said. “The only issue we have is class size.”

Carroll said once the parties move into arbitration, the current proposal is off the table. “They could end up losing their raises and ending up with medical with a higher deductible,” she said.

Return to top