Class-size negotiations bill sets up conflict over potential costs
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
OSBA Board of Directors Member Liz Hartman (Lake Oswego SD) testified with Cassandra Hayt (left) of Oregon Business & Industry against House Bill 4113 on Wednesday in the House Business and Labor Committee. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Supporters and opponents of House Bill 4113 agreed on one thing during testimony Wednesday: class sizes are important and school districts need more money for teachers.
But both sides are fundamentally opposed over a bill that promises to be one of the most contentious of this short legislative session. Supporters said the bill would create needed discussions about class size. Opponents said having those discussions over a collective bargaining table would cost districts more money and potentially lead to drastic cuts in school calendars without necessarily helping students.
HB 4113, which got its first hearing in the House Business and Labor Committee, would make class size a “mandatory” subject in collective bargaining discussions. The teachers union would be able to force negotiations over the issue and strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached. Currently, it is a “permissive” subject under Oregon law, meaning the issue can be discussed during contract talks but not used as grounds for a strike or lockout.
OSBA, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon Business & Industry oppose the bill.
“Everybody agrees we want smaller class sizes,” testified Randy Schild, superintendent of the Tillamook School District. “Unfortunately, this bill does not guarantee smaller class sizes, but it would guarantee higher salary costs.”
The bill does not set any standards for class sizes or teacher pay, nor does it provide money for hiring additional teachers.
Districts say they don’t have the money to hire more teachers. The Oregon Department of Education has estimated that to lower median class sizes by three students, districts would need about 2,600 additional teachers for the 2019-21 biennium at a cost of $575.6 million. That does not include related facility costs to add classrooms. Without additional funds from the Legislature, districts would likely need to cut programs, staff and educational time to pay additional teacher salary costs, administrators say.
The issue is stable and adequate funding for schools, testified OSBA Board of Directors Member Liz Hartman (Lake Oswego SD). School board members are ready to partner with teachers, administrators and the Legislature to design and fund a plan to improve outcomes for all Oregon students, she said.
“Every district will hire more teachers when there are more resources available,” she testified. “We need flexibility to plan for the future, not mandated state actions.”
OSBA has created a resource page on the potential costs and other information related to the bill.
HB 4113 is a top priority for the Oregon Education Association, the teachers union. Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem) co-sponsored the bill.
“Money is the issue, not just bargaining,” he testified. He said class size should be treated like wages and benefits in bargaining. Clem said he brought the bill because he wants more people talking about class size.
The bill’s opponents say class sizes can already be discussed, as evidenced by the recent contract ratified by teachers for Portland Public Schools. Terms of that contract, revealed this week, include class-size maximums. Teachers would receive base salary increases when their class sizes exceed set limits.
Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard), one of the chief sponsors for HB 4113, sponsored a nearly identical bill in the 2017 session. That bill had a hearing in the House Education Committee, where she was the chair, but never had a vote.
The Business and Labor Committee has a work session on the bill scheduled for Friday.