By Jordan Shearer, Post Bulletin
Public school teachers from across the city showed up on Tuesday to raise awareness about the impact large class sizes have on students and teachers alike.
More than 300 people marched around Rochester Public Schools' central office ahead of the district’s school board meeting.
"It’s a lot easier for kids to get lost in the shuffle when there’s more kids in the classroom," Gibbs Elementary fifth grade teacher Andrew Ackerman said. “It means less individual attention for those kids that need help."
The issue of class caps is one of the things being discussed between the school district and the teachers union as part of their ongoing contract negotiations. During the Nov. 9 negotiation, the district’s administration estimated that meeting the union’s class-size proposal would require more than 30 additional classes.
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In the most recent round of negotiations, the teachers union, known as the Rochester Education Association, proposed caps of 15 students for preschool and early elementary classes, 18 for kindergarten, 20 for first and second grades, 24 for third and fourth grades, and 28 for fifth grade. REA President Vince Wagner said the REA decided on those numbers based on recommendations from the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, as well as the School Superintendents Association.
A summary of the union's proposal outlined the reasons for the caps, saying large classes lead to disengagement, feelings of alienation, and ultimately negative behaviors.
"These behaviors are manifesting themselves as violence against teachers at every elementary building," the summary says. "REA believes limiting elementary class size not only makes RPS more desirable to new educators, but also to prospective families by creating a world-class educational environment."
According to REA’s documentation, there are classes that exceed the union’s proposed caps at almost every elementary school. Among them are second-grade classrooms with 32 students at Folwell Elementary, which is 12 higher than the union’s proposal.
According to the current contract between the district and the union, there are class caps for the city’s secondary schools, but not its elementary schools. Wagner said that stems from the fact that there was once a state law that capped secondary class sizes.
“At the time, our REA bargaining unit had the foresight to mimic that law in our contract,” Wagner said, “so that when the law was repealed, it was still in the contract.”
Catherine Herbert, a special education teacher at Overland Elementary, expanded on the fact that larger class sizes impact students. She said not being able to give students the attention they need because of larger classes leads to more problems down the road. Like Ackerman, she said that if class sizes are too large, it’s going to eventually lead to needing more resources for students who end up falling behind.
On top of the consequences it has for students, Herbert said it also has a negative impact on teachers.
“I can count on more than one hand the number of teachers who are looking to leave education because of classroom sizes,” Herbert said. “If we can’t effectively teach, what’s the point then?”