Rochester Public Schools, teachers union $3 million apart in latest negotiations

Nov. 20—ROCHESTER — In addition to still disagreeing about class sizes, Rochester Public Schools and the district's teachers union are still several million dollars apart in what they each consider to be a reasonable agreement for the next two years.

The two sides met Monday night for their latest round of negotiations. After the previous meeting where the union and the district

came to a head

after a failed referendum, the district's administration on Monday said it was unable to bend further in the total cost of the contract.

"Simply put, RPS does not have additional funding it can dedicate to a contract with REA given the school district's larger financial position," RPS Human Resources Director Karl Bakken read from a statement. "There are no additional financial resources that we can draw upon to increase the size of our offer."

The total cost of the district's most recent proposal would represent an increase of $19.7 million above the existing contract between the two entities, equating to an increase of 14.88%.

Prior to Monday, the teachers union, formally known as the Rochester Education Association, asked the district to up the existing contract by $41 million — more than double what the district said it was willing to spend.

Encased within those overall numbers are a myriad of factors, including salary steps and lanes, class sizes, health insurance, maternity leave and a slew of other variables.

One of the variables the teachers union has been emphasizing publicly is the issue of class sizes. Last week, hundreds of

teachers marched

around the school district's central office ahead of the school board meeting, raising awareness about their request for smaller classes.

The issue affects the district's teaching staff differently. There is no language in the current contract limiting class sizes for elementary grades. At the secondary level, however, there's a student-to-teacher ratio. That ratio doesn't limit the number of students in any one classroom, but it does limit the total number of students a teacher can see in a day.

Although the district does have class size guidelines for elementary schools, there is nothing limiting them within the contract itself. On Monday, district officials indicated it was not something they wanted to put in official writing.

"Putting class size limits into the contract would constrain the district's ability to respond to changes in educational delivery models, student enrollment, funding levels, boundary changes and other factors," the district's statement read.

After discussing the district's response for more than an hour, the teachers union returned with a counterproposal — far below its previous request but still more expensive than the amount the school district said it would be able to afford.

REA President Vince Wagner said the total cost of the union's counterproposal is $22.8 million above the existing contract. That total number is $3.1 million above the amount the district said it would be willing to spend, leaving the two sides with ongoing work before reaching an agreement.

As part of their counterproposal, the REA dropped several requests, but they did maintain their request for elementary class sizes. According to Wagner, the class size request would represent $2.7 million of the overall cost increase of the contract.

One of the district's objections to class size caps is the amount of additional space it would require. At a previous meeting, RPS officials estimated the union's class size request would require an additional 37 classrooms throughout the district.

However, Wagner said they would be willing to work with the district in order to have it written in the contract.

"We did discuss the issue of space for elementary (class) caps," Wagner said. "We recognize that is an issue. And in the case of buildings that don't have space, we're willing to look at other options."