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Teachers ask for less class time

School district bargaining opens with union call for reduced hours in grades 4-8.

March 29, 2011|By Britney Barnes, britney.barnes@latimes.com

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.

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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.

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