Class size does matter

Lawrence Teachers Association, school board clash on numbers

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The Lawrence Teachers Association claims that the school district’s Board of Education is considering eliminating class-size caps — a move, the union maintains, that would mean employing fewer teachers and reducing children’s opportunities to learn.

“Eliminating the class-size clause for the district leads to one thing — saving money,” LTA President Lori Skonberg said. “It has nothing to do with sound educational practices.”

Class size is another battle in the ongoing contract dispute between the district and the union that is now entering its seventh year since the most recent agreement expired in 2011. These are the longest-running contract negotiations in the state.

The latest skirmish centers on a fact-finder’s July 2017 report that the roughly 280-member teachers association endorsed last year but the board rejected earlier this year. The LTA has since filed an improper-practice charge against the board. Late last month, the teachers posted a flier on Facebook addressed to the Lawrence school community, focusing on the possible elimination of the class-size caps. Board trustees vehemently deny they are considering changing the policy.

“The imposition of class-size caps hinders our ability to deliver education efficiently, board President Murray Forman said. “Having said that, the Board of Education has no intention of materially increasing class sizes. We are at the top of having the smallest class sizes.”

Comparing Lawrence with other school districts, Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen said that Lawrence has “one of the lowest class sizes in Nassau County,” and noted that the district’s kindergarten classes are capped at 20 (see box, Page 14). Rockville Centre, in contrast, caps its kindergarten classes at 25.

“No formal discussion has taken place regarding class size,” Pedersen said. “I spoke to Lori [Skonberg] once and asked her what her opinion was on class size, and if the language in the contract was too restrictive.”

Forman called the LTA’s charge fear- mongering and a “desperate effort not to deal with reality in a life with a 2 percent tax cap.”

Skonberg said that the “class size clause has been one item that we continue to not agree upon.” A science teacher, she said that research has shown that smaller class sizes allow “teachers to differentiate lessons, have more contact with each student in the room and . . . monitor the students’ progress more effectively.”

Based on information collected from multiple sources by Class Size Matters, a Manhattan-based nonprofit that advocates for smaller class sizes, reducing them is considered one of the few educational strategies that result in increased learning for all students.

In small classes, according to the organization, the students who improve the most are those who often need the most help: children from poor and minority backgrounds, who experience twice the educational gains of average students.

Lawrence has a large number of students who are considered poor. Seventy percent of its enrollees qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“In past years, the district has had to split classes during the school year, for the most part on the elementary level,” said Skonberg, who disputes the district’s claim that its class size numbers are the lowest in the county. “The students do adapt to the change, and the teachers are able to create an environment that fosters a welcoming community after the split has occurred.”

The Hewlett-Woodmere district, Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mark Secaur said, uses class size guideline ranges “that allow us to best serve the students’ needs and plan for staffing and support services.” Surveying other Nassau districts and educational literature helped district officials create the guidelines, he said. “It’s important to note that individual circumstances are also considered when determining the number of students in elementary classes,” Secaur added.

Matthew Russo, a Woodmere resident with two children in the district who may be a candidate for the Lawrence school board, said, “I believe it is important to keep small class sizes to provide a good education for our children.” He added that the board should begin to negotiate “fairly” with the teachers.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12, at 8 p.m., at Lawrence Middle School, at 195 Broadway in Lawrence.

Have an opinion about class size or Lawrence contract negotiations? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.