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Most crowded classes are in a handful of high schools, union says

The number of crowded classrooms has increased nearly ten-fold this year, but they’re crammed into only 32 schools, according to a survey released by the teachers union today.

Every spring semester, the union surveys its members to find the number of oversize classrooms — those that exceed the numbers of students outlined in the teachers contract — to see how many remain after the fall hearings on crowded classrooms are over. This year, union officials said there are 1,236 oversize high school classes in the city, but rather than being spread out among the schools in each borough, they’re in 32 schools. At this time last year, there were 176 crowded high school classes in the city, the union’s report states.

On the union’s list of schools that have crowded classrooms are several schools, such as John Dewey High School (105 oversize classes) and Sheepshead Bay High School (88 oversize classes), that are endangered. Both of these high schools are on the state’s list of schools it wants the city to replace, either by shutting them down and opening new schools or changing their leadership. Others, like Paul Robeson High School, will begin phasing out next year.

For an academic high school class to be considered crowded, it has to have more than 34 students.

In a statement sent to reporters, Department of Education spokesman David Cantor said the union’s numbers were inflated.

“Inflated UFT numbers are sure to dramatically decline. The current period of budget tightening — which has led to a small rise in class size — is an unfortunate time to release misleading numbers to score political points,” Cantor said.

The city’s own data shows that average class sizes rose in the lower grades last school year and again this year.

United Federation of Teachers spokesman Dick Riley said the union will file demands for arbitration for all 1,236 classrooms tomorrow and hearings will begin next week.

According to the DOE, the chances that all of these cases will actually come up in a hearing are slim. The department estimates of that of the 506 demands for arbitration that the UFT filed in the fall, 75 percent were either withdrawn or never scheduled.

The schools listed in the spreadsheet below have the highest numbers of crowded classrooms in the city:

UFT survey of second semester finds nearly 47,000 students

spending all or part of each day in oversized classes

As the second semester of the 2009-2010 school year begins, at least 1,236 classes in the city’s high schools are oversize, leaving an estimated 46,968 students in an oversize class for all or part of each day, according to a survey by the United Federation of Teachers.  The number is nearly five times larger than the number of oversize high school classes at the beginning of the second semester in the 2008-2009 school year.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “Oversize classes and overcrowded schools can and should be a warning sign to the Department of Education, particularly if the overcrowding is due to the closure of other schools in the neighborhood.  The UFT will be filing official grievances on these oversize classes this week as part of the effort to reduce class sizes across the city.”

High schools with 100 or more oversize classes included John Dewey with 105 oversize classes; Murry Bergtraum with 143; and Hillcrest with 135.

Last year at this time the total number of oversize high school classes was 176.

As of February 9, 2010, one week after the second semester officially began, Queens high schools had 367 oversize classes; the number was 263 for Manhattan high schools, 485 for high schools in Brooklyn, 85 for high schools in Staten Island and 36 for high schools in the Bronx.

Potential reasons for the increase in oversize classes this spring include budget cuts that reduced the number of teachers and programs at schools;   the closure or phasing out of some schools, concentrating students in fewer buildings; and population increases in certain neighborhoods.

Class size limits in academic subjects in high school are set at 34 students.   The class size limits are established by DOE agreements with the UFT, along with state and City Council mandates.  The estimate of students affected was based on an average of 38 students in each oversize class.

Today’s announcement represents the second time during this school year that the UFT has found growing class sizes compared to the last school year.  In September 2009 a UFT survey found that there were nearly 7,500 oversize classes in the city’s elementary, middle and high schools at that time, compared with just under 6,000 oversize classes September 2008.