President's Message: Bargaining for Smaller Classes

Dear Educator,

For years, our union has been fighting for smaller class sizes and caseloads. Many of you remember organizing with educators across the state to walk out of school on May 8, 2019, demanding permanent, statewide funding to support lower class sizes.

There are so many reasons why small class-size and caseloads matter: to give our students the attention they need and deserve; to create meaningful curriculum that is responsive to the individual students we serve; to foster positive classroom climate; to build the relationships and sense of community we know are at the core of learning.

This year more than ever, class size is a matter of health and safety.

Even when we aren’t in a global pandemic, overloaded class sizes and caseloads keep us from giving our students the support they deserve. Oregon continually ranks among the very worst states in the nation for class size. Student to staff ratios for specialists like school counselors and psychologists, school nurses, speech language pathologists, and special education are often more than double the national recommendations. And our students are paying the price.

Despite being one of the most important determinants of student learning, our union has not been able to fight for smaller class sizes at the bargaining table because class size was not considered a “mandatory” subject of bargaining under Oregon law.

Instead, we were forced to frame the conversation as a matter of workload, which is considered a “mandatory” subject of bargaining, and PAT has negotiated overage pay for educators with a class size or caseload exceeding specified thresholds.

Our position has always been that we do not want ANY teacher to have class sizes or caseloads that require overage pay. We want caseloads and class sizes that allow us to meaningfully engage our students. 

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the consequences of not being able to negotiate class size and caseloads. Across the District we have cohort sizes that DO NOT meet safety and health guidelines from OHA, OSHA, and ODE. 

This has to change. And we now have a new tool to make the change we need. 

This summer, the Oregon Legislature passed SB 580making class sizes and caseloads at Title 1 schools a mandatory subject of collective bargaining. This new law goes into effect January 1, 2022, which means this spring, when we start bargaining our next contract with the District, we can finally talk about class size directly.

This is a huge step in the right direction. We are hopeful that, by starting with our Title I schools, we can change the tenor of conversations about class sizes across the District. 

When we demand smaller class sizes and caseloads, we are fighting for our students and our public education system. But we also need the state of Oregon to finally fully fund our schools, at least to the level of the Quality Education Model. As we struggle to “build back better” during the ongoing crisis, Oregon has the chance to finally put the resources behind the rhetoric. 

In Solidarity,

Elizabeth Thiel

PAT President