Union disputes district claims

The Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers has issued a letter denying the school district's claims that the union was responsible for the elimination of a science enrichment program at Kaiser Elementary School in Costa Mesa.

Kimberly Claytor, federation president, on Friday sent a letter to Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials saying the union supports reinstating last year's science schedule and that the district misinterpreted concerns the union brought up regarding educators' workloads.

For years, Kaiser sixth-graders received 90 consecutive minutes of science instruction during normal school hours each week.

Half an hour of that instruction was an enrichment program funded by a group of parents who raise funds on behalf of the Kaiser Woodland Foundation.

But for the first half of the 2013-14 school year, sixth-graders have not been in the enrichment program because, according to district officials, the union had said that science teachers across the district were being forced to take on too many students.

After parents complained at a Dec. 10 school board meeting about losing the program, which supplements the district's core science curriculum to give students a deeper understanding of the subject, the district decided to offer a replacement before-school program for the rest of the year.

The district expanded its core science curriculum to begin at the third-grade level this year after the union complained that some educators were teaching more classes and students than others, district spokeswoman Laura Boss told the Daily Pilot last week.

This led to science specialist Phil Schinhofen, who taught the entire 90 minutes of the sixth-grade science classes, also having to teach third-graders the core science curriculum.

Emily Foster, the foundation-funded science teacher at Kaiser, taught third-grade science last year as a 30-minute enrichment program, but because of the district policy change, she cannot continue to teach the class now that it is part of the core curriculum for the district. Foster currently teachers the third-grade enrichment program.

District-funded teachers are required to teach the core curriculum. Teachers funded by outside sources, like school foundations, are only authorized to teach enrichment courses, according to district policy.

"This increased core program schedule has inadvertently restricted [Schinhofen's] availability to teach any enrichment sections since the core courses fill his schedule," Boss said last week.

However, the district misinterpreted the union's complaints and applied them to eliminate the science enrichment program, Claytor wrote in her letter.

Claytor wrote that she doesn't appreciate the district "convoluting [the union's] concerns and attempting to create a chasm between parents and teachers."

The union previously raised concerns about the science specialists' workloads, but they were not associated with the enrichment program, the letter states.

Specifically, the issues were related to the amount of time teachers were given for teaching laboratory classes in addition to having to grade all students based on lab notebooks, projects and class participation.

Two years ago, science teachers only had to evaluate students based on class participation, which is a "significant change in workload," Claytor wrote.

"We are uncertain how the district failed to comprehend the union's concerns, which are classic workload issues," she wrote. "The district's justification to parents, the public, the students and the teachers is incomprehensible, unjustified and disingenuous."

District officials did not respond to the Daily Pilot's requests for comment by press time.

In response to parent complaints, the district and Kaiser Principal Deborah Granger announced last week that Foster will take on the enrichment program for 30 minutes before the school day begins for the remainder of the school year.

Students who opt in would attend the enriched science class at 7:45 a.m. on the day of their parent's choosing.

However, at a meeting last week, several parents were apprehensive about the early start time and the fact that the children's science instruction would be fractured.

Claytor plans to discuss this issue further with district officials in an attempt to remedy the situation.

"We support the parents' solution, which is to have the upper-grade teacher teach all of the upper-grade science," she said.

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