New bill could increase costs

DALLAS — State lawmakers are considering a bill to reduce class sizes, but it could prove costly for school districts.

Dallas School District Business Manager Debbie MacLean said the cost of House Bill 4113 could be more that $575 million in the 2019-21 biennium, according to the Oregon Department of Education.

The bill aims to make class size a mandatory part of collective bargaining between schools and teacher unions. Now, class size is a permissive topic.

“It would have a significant budget impact for all school districts,” MacLean said at the Dallas School Board meeting Monday night. “ODE is currently estimating that lowering the median class sizes even by three students require 2,600 additional teachers statewide.”

Those costs — and what that could mean for cuts in other places in the budget — are part of the reason the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Oregon School Boards Association oppose it.

Jim Green OSBA’s executive director said he fears money going to reduce class sizes could be cut from other programs, or reduce the length of the school year as districts try to balance budgets.

Rep. Brian Clem, a sponsor of the bill, said making class size a mandatory topic bargaining doesn’t force an outcome, just negotiations. He said that if teachers want to make class size a negotiation topic, they should be aware that the risk might be foregoing raises or other benefits.

“Class size is a function of money, but it also is a working condition, and that is the big thing for teachers. The sanity level of a teacher is sometimes worth more than the pay raise or the COLA (cost-of-living adjustment),” he said during a public hearing on the bill on Feb. 7.

He said Portland Public Schools and North Clackamas School District were able to come to agreements on class size under the permissive structure. He wants that option to be open to all districts.

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