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New Detroit schools contract allows up to 61 students in grades 6-12

Ohanian Comment: I have a "Cost of the War in Iraq" running tab on this site. it links to Cost of War. There, they have a running tab of the costs of war since 2001. The numbers run by so fast that it is impossible to write one down, but I got this one: $1,352,379,087,370.

I never learned to read numbers this big. These numbers are why Detroiters can't afford to educate their children and why Stockton, California--and more--are declaring bankruptcy.

By Jennifer Chambers

Under a new three-year contract imposed last week class sizes in Detroit Public Schools could be as large as 61 students each in grades 6-12.

Detroit-- Class sizes in Detroit Public Schools could get much larger this fall ΓΆ€” up to 61 students each in grades 6-12 and 41 students in grades kindergarten through 3 ΓΆ€” before school officials take action to level them out.

Under a new three-year contract imposed last week on the teachers' union, DPS will "make reasonable efforts" at reorganizing class sizes for students in K-12 when they exceed contractual limits.

In grades K-3, the class maximum is 25. But under the new contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers, which took effect July 1, a class would need to reach 41 students before DPS moves to reduce it.

In grades 4-5, where 30 is the limit, it would take 46 students to trigger a response. In grades 6-12, where class sizes were increased to 35, leveling efforts would begin once the class reaches 61 students.

DPS said it will reorganize the classes starting after the fourth Wednesday in the fall and the second Wednesday in the spring semester if overcrowding develops from "additional pupils entering school" or results from "inequitable school organization."

Steve Wasko, spokesman for DPS, said class reorganization standards in the new contract remain the same as the last contract.

"The reorganization is what takes place after the count days twice yearly, and at other times as necessary. The district does not intend to have classes at those sizes listed," he said.

Asked why numbers for triggering reorganization were set in the contract, Wasko declined to comment.

In 2011, DPS made international news when, under then-Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, it issued a plan calling for high school classes of up to 60 students in an effort to reduce its $327 million budget deficit.

DPS officials later said the plan -- which was filed with the state Department of Education as a pledge to reduce the deficit under an emergency manager -- was never meant to come to fruition.

Keith Johnson, president of the DFT, said the district does not have classrooms to accommodate 60 students, and the union would pursue legal action if class sizes became excessive.

"This is part of their reduction process and plan to minimize teacher service. It would have an adverse effect on student achievement," he said. "This is completely unacceptable. You would not hear talk of this in any surrounding community. This is disregard for children and parents in DPS."

Last October, the Detroit fire marshal investigated overcrowding at DPS buildings after his division found more than 50 students in a kindergarten class at Nolan Elementary.

A Nolan parent called fire officials to complain that 55 students were in her son's kindergarten class, well over the 35-student limit.

Fire officials investigated a second DPS school -- Gompers Elementary-Middle -- after a teacher there said nearly 45 students apiece were in two seventh-grade classes.

During fall 2011, union officials said more than 200 classrooms at 42 DPS schools had oversized classes, based on a survey by the DFT.

Until 2011, DPS paid a fine to teachers if class sizes exceeded contractual limits. But when Emergency Manager Roy Roberts imposed a 10 percent pay cut on all employees in July 2011, he also took away the compensation for oversized classes. The change saves the district about $700,000 for that year.

School and union officials said several factors contribute to excessive class sizes, including fluctuations in enrollment and attendance.

The district projects a certain number of students will show up on the first day of school, but many students will show up later this school year, creating oversized classes.

Union leaders also said DPS contributes to the problem in some buildings by laying off all of its teachers each spring, then calling some back for the fall. According to the DFT, the district doesn't recall enough teachers.

The yearly reorganization of classrooms has sometimes gone into November, more than two months into the new school year. DPS said it expects to have nearly 52,000 students across 100 buildings this school year.

All DPS teachers and DFT staff were laid off this spring. Callbacks are expected to begin next month, Wasko said.

Debra Olesky, a math teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, said research clearly indicates students do better in smaller class sizes.

If the numbers hit 61 in high school, Olesky said, "I don't think there would be any teaching going on. It would be babysitting."

Monica Davis-Huey, a DPS parent with a daughter entering 4th grade this fall, said allowing class sizes to reach larger levels such as 45 would serve no one and would likely result in her daughter being bored, because the teacher would have to help so many other children catch up.

"That's too many. My concern is for all the children as a whole. Regardless of how many are in their class, there has to be an assistant," she said. "It's absolutely ridiculous. I think you will have a lot of teachers changing careers."

— By Jennifer Chambers
Detroit News





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