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Newport-Mesa teachers union renews contract negotiations on class sizes and traveling teachers   

Newport-Mesa teachers union renews contract negotiations on class sizes and traveling teachers   
Britt Dowdy, president of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, says the union would like administrators to account for the time that traveling teachers spend driving between schools, reform how they’re assigned to schools and improve the classrooms or offices they use. (Courtesy of Britt Dowdy)

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers officially reopened contract negotiations Tuesday with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, revisiting concerns about class sizes and caseloads of specialized staff such as school psychologists.

Under a three-year contract the district board of trustees approved in October 2017, the teachers union is allowed to annually select two topics it would like to reopen for discussion with administrators.

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This isn’t the first time union leaders have raised concerns about class sizes and the working conditions of specialized staff, including teachers who mostly travel among elementary schools to teach music, physical education and science.

“We are looking to evaluate class sizes and caseloads of specialists and how they can best support students,” said Britt Dowdy, president of the teachers union.

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Dowdy said the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers would like administrators to account for the time that traveling teachers spend driving between schools, reform how they’re assigned to specific schools and improve the classrooms or offices where they interact with students.

The union chose the topics to reopen based on feedback from its members, Dowdy said.

The district also released the topics it would like to revisit during negotiations.

Administrators want to review student-free working days and draft academic calendars through the 2022-23 school year, according to public documents.

In February 2018, the board adopted a new collegiate-style calendar for the 2019-20 school year that sends students back to school Sept. 3.

At the time, the proposal raised concerns by some parents who plan summer vacations around Labor Day and others who were concerned about students being in classrooms without air conditioning during hot late-summer weather.

However, district officials have made progress on regulating temperatures in classrooms. The board voted recently to advertise for bids for $25 million in contracts to install new cooling, heating and ventilation systems this summer at Newport, Newport Heights, Harbor View, Mariners and Whittier elementary schools and Ensign Intermediate and Back Bay/Monte Vista High schools.

Six sites — Davis Magnet and College Park, Wilson, Pomona, Kaiser and Woodland Elementary schools — received air conditioning last summer.

The district also wants to update the forms it uses to evaluate teachers’ performance.

As is typically done annually, the district will revisit teachers’ salaries and benefits. Leona Olson, assistant superintendent and chief human-resources officer, said she expects to present a new benefits package to the district employee associations by mid-March and would like to present a tentative agreement in May for approval by the board of trustees.

Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.

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