Detroit Contract Increases Class Size ‘Rebalance’ Trigger

Under a new contract which went into effect at the beginning of this month, class sizes in Detroit schools could increase significantly. The three-year agreement between the Detroit Public Schools and the Detroit Federation of Teachers allows the number of students in one class to be over the limit by nearly 50% before district officials are forced to take steps to rebalance them.

In K-3 classrooms, where the maximum class size is 25, numbers can reach 41 before the DPS has to take steps to reduce it. Classrooms in grades 4-5, where 30 students is the limit, can reach 46 before DPS steps in. In the district’s middle schools and high schools, leveling won’t begin until the classes grow to 61 pupils — which is 26 over the 35-student limit .

DPS said it will reorganize the classes starting after the fourth Wednesday in the fall and the second Wednesday in the spring semester if overcrowding develops from “additional pupils entering school” or results from “inequitable school organization.”

Steve Wasko, spokesman for DPS, said class reorganization standards in the new contract remain the same as the last contract.

The provisions aren’t as onerous as those in the 2011 DPS reorganization plan filed by the Emergency Manager Robert Bobb, filed with the Michigan Department of Education, that called for increasing class sizes to 60. Bobb was tasked with coming up with a way to reduce the district’s $327 million budget deficit. Later, DFT President Keith Johnson said that the filed plan was never meant to be implemented, especially since schools in Detroit can’t accommodate classrooms that crowded.

This point was highlighted last fall when a parent, complaining that there were 55 students in her child’s kindergarten class, called a local fire marshal to the school. The subsequent investigation found that Nolan Elementary was routinely placing more than 50 students in each class, well in excess of 35 limit for that age group.

Fire officials investigated a second DPS school — Gompers Elementary-Middle — after a teacher there said nearly 45 students apiece were in two seventh-grade classes.

During fall 2011, union officials said more than 200 classrooms at 42 DPS schools had oversized classes, based on a survey by the DFT.

Previously, DPS teachers were paid a bonus if the classes they taught exceeded the limit set by the contract. However, those payments were discontinued when the school system was taken over by the Emergency Manager Roy Roberts at the same time that a unilateral 10% pay cut was imposed on all DPS staff.