By Terry Dean
A proposal to study class sizes and its impact on instruction and working conditions for Oak Park and River Forest High School faculty was rejected by the District 200 Board of Education on Jan. 23.
The board, at their regular meeting last Thursday, voted down the recommendation for a task force to look at class sizes. The motion calling for the study was put forth by board member Steve Gevinson, a former OPRF teacher, elected to the board last April.
Gevinson said the high school has never seriously examined class sizes and its impact on instruction or teachers' working conditions. Gevinson's request for a study group —comprising faculty and administrators — stemmed from a report on class sizes submitted by the administration to the board's instruction committee on Jan. 14.
According to the report, OPRF's average class size is around 23.8. Class sizes have remained steady at that average over the last six years. A decade ago, class size was a high as 25.4, according to the report.
Gevinson disputed that, saying class sizes have steadily increased at OPRF over the last 10-20 years.
The report was submitted as an information-only item. Gevinson, who chairs that committee, called for a motion to bring the report to the full board and to create a study group.
At the regular meeting last Thursday, several board members expressed support for the idea of examining class sizes but not as part of the joint study group.
Earlier in the meeting, the board approved its strategic plan after more than a year's work developing it. Several board members said the class size issue should be handled as part of the plan, through one of the "action teams" which could develop specific initiatives related to instruction.
Gevinson, supported by board member Sharon Patchak-Layman, insisted that class size, because of its importance, should be looked at separately. He added that the issue would likely fall by the wayside if not addressed individually, something he said has happened in the past.
Gevinson and Patchak-Layman were the only members voting in favor of the recommendation.
Board President John Phelan expressed concern about the board "dictating" to administration what it should and should not be doing as far as instruction. Phelan added that it should be the administration coming to the board with recommendations and not the other way around.
D97, D200 faculty contract talks
Teacher contract talks at districts 200 and 97 are taking place this spring. The current faculty contracts in the respective districts are ending this year.
According to D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca, negotiations at the elementary and middle school district will begin early next month. D200 spokesperson Karin Sullivan said contract talks at the high school began on Monday.
D200 approved a two-year contract in early 2012 that included, among other things, a faculty pay freeze over the duration of the deal. D97 faculty in 2011 accepted a one-year pay freeze in exchange for extending its current five-year deal — which was approved in 2008 — for an additional year.
D97 and D200's teacher contracts are up in June.
OP, RF schools close due to sub-zero temps
Oak Park schools were forced to close for the second time this month due to dangerously cold temperatures.
Schools throughout Cook County closed Jan. 6 and 7, as temperatures fell well below zero. Oak Park and River Forest High School was not in session for students anyway on Jan. 6 because of a faculty-only Institute Day.
Schools once again announced closings on Monday and Tuesday of this week because of the sub-zero cold.
Districts 200 and 97, as well as District 90 in River Forest, announced Sunday that school buildings and administrative offices would not be open on Monday. That decision was extended to Tuesday. All school events and activities were canceled in the three districts.
All before- and after-school activities in Oak Park, River Forest and surrounding western suburbs, including the Hephzibah program, were cancelled. The districts' administration offices also remained closed over those two days.
Fenwick High School sent out announcements Sunday via email and Chicago Public Schools sent out a similar announcement.
The latest closings and loss of hours this week had a notable impact on OPRF since Wednesdays are late-arrival days for students.
Some of the districts had already adjusted their spring calendars to make up for the lost days earlier this month — that included adding days to the end of the school year in June. As of press time, no word had come from the districts concerning additional calendar changes due to these latest closings.