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Mandatory class size bargaining divides House Education Committee

“There is no debate about class size in Oregon. None,” said Chuck Bennett, testifying Wednesday on behalf of the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators. “Smaller class sizes are better for kids, better for teachers, and education is improved.”

He agreed class sizes in Oregon are too large.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the issue today,” he told the House Education Committee.

The issue was House Bill 2651, which would make class size a mandatory subject of bargaining in contract negotiations between school districts and teachers.

The main proponent is committee Chair Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard), who is a former teacher and consultant with the Oregon Education Association. She began her testimony by saying that class sizes are too large; large class sizes are a condition of employment; and there is real value in having class size as a topic on the table during labor negotiations.

“We just want to have the discussion,” she said.

The issue, Bennett said, is funding.

“We don’t have anything to give,” he said during his testimony. “We are in a bargaining situation that’s imbalanced.”

OSBA joined COSA to testify against the measure.

Richard Donovan, OSBA legislative specialist, told the committee that “remedies of class size should be remedies of funding, hiring more people, not changing labor law,” saying that enactment of HB 2651 would not lead to lower class sizes but would rather lead to increased labor strife and disagreement.

The Oregon Education Association and the Oregon School Employees Association testified in support of the measure.

“Legislation allowing us to have those conversations about class size could bring some differentiation and direction of resources to this very important issue,” said Maureen Barnhart, a fourth-grade teacher and member of the Hillsboro Education Association.

Reaction from the committee on the issue was mixed.

Rep. Susan McLain (D-Forest Grove) is a vocal supporter of the measure, stating that she sees it as a way to lower class sizes.

Rep. Rich Vial (R-Scholls) was less enthusiastic. One outcome of the bill could be an increase in labor strife and potential strikes, he said.

“I've been on a school board, I've negotiated contracts, both in a school environment and other places with unions, and it feels like anything is always on the table anyway," he said. “What does this (bill) do?”

The future of the bill is unclear. Some members on the committee have obviously taken sides. Others seem to be giving serious consideration to the issue but have yet to take a position. OSBA will continue watching the bill and will keep members posted on new developments.

- Richard Donovan
Legislative specialist