Teachers ask for less class time

COSTA MESA — As contract negotiations open, the teachers union has proposed reducing teaching time by 30 minutes a day in grades 4-6 and 30 minutes to an hour in grades 7-8.

District officials have yet to take a formal position on the proposal, but say it is their belief that more instruction leads to higher student performance.

The changes, the union argues, in its next contract would align the district with statewide standards, which call for lower teaching-time minimums.

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers began negotiations Monday with the school district. The current contract expires June 30.

"Our team is very hopeful that we can have positive negotiations with the district and reach a successor agreement while maintaining current level salaries and benefits," said Nicholas Dix, executive director of the union, which also represents school counselors, psychologists and other certificated employees.

The union's proposal calls for "the instructional minutes in our contract [to] match state-required instructional minutes for the various grade levels."

The proposed changes would not prohibit teachers from teaching more, but it would change contract language to be at the state minimums.

The existing contract's minimum instruction time is on par with the state minimum in grades K-3 and 9-12, according to the state Education Code. That agreement calls for 30 more minutes of teaching time than the state-mandated minimum in grades 4-6. In grades 7-8, the contract calls for 30 extra minutes at 7-8 schools and an extra hour at 7-12 schools.

"Our interest is that our contract mirror the [Education] Code, which it does in all the other grade levels," Dix said.

The proposal is not just about instructional minutes, but about effective use of teaching time, Dix said.

"It's not our intent in this proposal to negatively impact students in any way," he said.

The entire contract is up for negotiation, but the union and the district listed the areas they are interested in changing or modifying in the initial proposals, said John Caldecott, the district's human resources executive director.

Any new issues not in the initial proposals will have to come before the public before they can be discussed, Caldecott said.

Caldecott said it would be inappropriate to comment on any proposal, but added that in general, research shows that class time is important to student learning.

"More instructional learning leads to success," said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

The union's initial proposal listed 18 areas it wants to modify in the contract with the district, including increasing the work year for special education teachers, giving its members the chance to request paid leave, and adding language that employee complaints will be investigated internally without retaliation.

The district listed nine areas it is interested in discussing, including class size, salaries, and health and retirement benefits, but the district's positions on the items aren't clear from the initial proposal.

The union also wants the district to make sure all classrooms have air conditioning.

"We want to make sure that all of our teachers and students are in a comfortable environment that's conducive to education," Dix said.

The district and union teams are slated to meet for negotiations on various dates from April 22 to June 20, according to an e-mail from union President Kimberly Claytor.

The negotiations are required by the state to be done in private and the result won't be shared with the public until a tentative agreement is reached by both sides and put before the school board for approval, Caldecott said.

What's Actually Happening In The Classroom?

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District compiled the average number of instructional minutes happening per grade level each day. Here, it's compared to the state-mandated minimum and proposed contract amount, and the current contract minimum.

Grade(s) / Average / State minimum (and proposed contract amount) / Current contract minimum

K / 267 / 200 / 200

1 / 303 / 280 / 280

2 / 303 / 280 / 280

3 / 304 / 280 / 280

4-6 / 311 / 300 / 330

7-8 / 353 / 300 / 330

9-12 / 366 / 360 / 360

All numbers rounded to the nearest whole number.

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