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Oregon House advances measure to bargain class sizes

February 21, 2018

FILE - In this May 4, 2017, file photo, motivational banners hang in the common area of Forest Grove High School as students head to classes in Forest Grove, Ore. A proposal to include class sizes as required bargaining items during negotiations between teachers and school districts is moving ahead in the Oregon Legislature. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A proposal to include class sizes as required bargaining items during negotiations between teachers and school districts is moving ahead in the Oregon Legislature.

Teachers are currently able to ask for class size changes as part of their bargaining, but are not required to do so. Under the proposal, collective bargaining negotiations would be required to cover class sizes along with things like pay. The Oregon House advanced the measure on a 33-25 vote Tuesday, sending it to the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Brian Clem, a Democrat from Salem, said the motivation for the bill stemmed from his own experience as a parent. He said he had watched students in his daughter’s class cope with added classmates.

“I’ve always been worried about class sizes like most parents,” Clem said during the bill’s public hearing earlier this month. “But when you see your own kid and her friends juggling the two spots where there’s no desks, it hurts.”

Clem said that the measure was in part a way to force discussions of class size, and to relieve teachers from having to weigh asking for class size reductions against asking for personal benefits like pay increases.

In floor debate, some members objected to the bill on the grounds of cost.

Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn, said before voting against the measure that she supported smaller class sizes but was worried taxpayers could be left to pay for increases negotiated outside the Legislature.

Class sizes were previously required to be part of bargaining: From 1989 to 1995, state law required them to be included.

The Oregon Education Association, the state teachers’ union, supported the bill at the hearing earlier in the month.

“Passing this bill in and of itself adds no cost,” said Jared Mason-Gere, a representative of the teachers’ union. Rather, Mason-Gere said, passing it would just require districts factor in class sizes during negotiations. “And then they will have a conversation about how best to balance their budgets.”

Some administrators disagreed.

Randy Schild, superintendent of Tillamook School District, told lawmakers at the hearing that small districts without space to add classrooms would still end up increasing class sizes, and would likely end up choosing to pay teachers more in exchange for the managing the larger classes.

“That wouldn’t improve the quality of education,” Schild said.

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