Hearing on class-size negotiations bill raises school funding questions
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
House Bill 4113 has likely had its last gasp this session, but the underlying issue of forced bargaining over class sizes is not going away.
Legislators in a Senate Education Committee hearing Wednesday said they expect class-size reduction and its expected costs will be major issues for the Joint Committee on Student Success. The committee is a yearlong legislative effort to gather the best ideas for Oregon education and how to pay for them.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green said district leaders talk constantly about reducing class sizes but it comes down to a lack of resources.
“We believe the committee should come up with a solution that will work in every school district across the state,” Green said.
Under current law, the teachers union and districts can discuss class sizes but neither side can force the issue to the bargaining table. HB 4113 would make class size a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, giving teachers the right to strike if an agreement couldn’t be reached on class-size language in contracts.
HB 4113 passed the House, but under legislative rules, it would take extraordinary action for the bill to get a Senate vote.
Richard Donovan, OSBA Legislative Services specialist, and Chuck Bennett, director of government relations for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, testified Wednesday against the bill. OSBA and other education stakeholders say class sizes are important but making them a mandatory subject would increase school district costs without necessarily lowering class sizes or helping students.
Richard Donovan, OSBA Legislative Services specialist, (left) and Chuck Bennett, director of government relations for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, testified Wednesday in the Senate Education Committee against House Bill 4113. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, and several teachers testified in support of the bill. They told of the teachers’ challenges in large classes and said class size needs to be part of the discussion of workplace conditions.
HB 4113 would not have set an optimum class size or provided money to pay for more teachers. Current Oregon contracts with class-size language also include bonuses for teachers if class sizes exceed a maximum number.
Representatives on both sides of the issue and committee members kept returning to funding challenges, including significant cost increases for the Public Employees Retirement System. For example, recent projections indicate that Oregon schools will pay an additional $530 million toward PERS in 2019-21 than for the current biennium.
HB 4113 uses nearly identical language to a bill that never passed out of committee in the 2017 regular session.
Rep. Brian Clem (D-Salem), one of HB 4113’s chief sponsors, said before the hearing that the bill will likely return next year but with some sort of funding mechanism to make it more palatable to legislators.