Arbitrator William J. Miller, Jr. ruled late last month in favor of Keystone Oaks teachers over an issue of how teachers receive bonus payments for large class sizes.
According to their current contract, teachers are to receive a bonus payment of $1,000 per semester for each class they teach where the number of students in the classroom is 23 or greater.
The teachers successfully argued that the term “class” means “each subject taught,” whereas it was previously understood—but not specifically written—to mean “a grouping of students.”
“Our view is that each subject taught, in itself, is a separate class,” said John McCarthy, president of the Keystone Oaks Education Association. “The district was viewing it as a class being a body of students. In other words, fourth grade was fourth grade, which was one class.”
District communications director James Cromie said following the arbitrator’s ruling, five or six teachers district-wide will receive the bonus. The cost to the district will total about $30,000, which he said is less than the cost of hiring one new teacher.
McCarthy, who teaches algebra and geometry at Keystone Oaks High School, said bonuses became an issue within the past year or two, as class sizes at the elementary schools became larger.
Since “class” was being defined as a group of students, high school teachers who taught many subjects—and many groups of students—could be eligible for multiple bonuses.
But elementary school teachers did not have this benefit because, although they prepared course material for a number of subjects each day, they always taught the same group of students. As such, they were only eligible to receive the bonus once.
Cromie and school board Vice President Gary Alward sat down with Dormont-Brookline Patch to discuss the contract and the arbitrator’s ruling.
Alward said this particular item regarding bonuses has been part of the teachers’ contract for about 20 years. It has not been an issue until recently, he said, because class sizes have been smaller in the past.
He said that since the teachers have a collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator ruled that all teachers should be treated the same way, and as such, receive the same bonus benefits.
“Normally a past practice will hold up when you go to arbitration, but this arbitrator didn’t look at it that way,” Alward said. “The union won the grievance. We have to live with that.”
Alward said the district is not planning to appeal the ruling, because to do that would cost taxpayer money. He said the ruling will not have a major negative impact on the district’s finances, and that to file an appeal and incur court costs is unnecessary.
Alward and McCarthy each said that the language was not written into the contract simply to give teachers more money, but was intended to benefit students in the classroom.
“That language was put in there in hopes of always keeping class sizes small to benefit the students,” McCarthy said. “It wasn’t put in with the idea that teachers wanted the extra money. You can ask any teacher. They would rather give up that money and have a smaller class.”
The cost to the district is not great enough to result in program cuts or any other change that would affect students, Cromie said. He also said class sizes are projected to equalize within the next few years, so larger classes will not occur as often.
In the past, Cromie said, larger classes have occurred sporadically at the high school level, and have become an issue at the elementary level within the past two years or so. The main reason for the increase in class size is that as teachers have retired, replacements have not been hired.