Just one week after the Palo Alto school board voted to approve full-day kindergarten for all elementary schools in May, the teacher's union made an official request to bargain the impact of this change, including asking for lower class-size caps, more time with aides and a schedule that would allow for more small-group instruction, according to an email provided to the Palo Alto Weekly through a Public Records Act request.
Six months later, several weeks into the launch of full-day kindergarten, the school board and teachers' union are still negotiating these requests. The board has met in closed session at least five times to discuss negotiations since early October and will again do so at tonight's board meeting.
Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educator's Association, wrote to Associate Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers on May 31 to make several contractual requests related to full-day kindergarten:
- Class sizes will not exceed 18 students, but if they do, remediation funds per each student over the limit will be provided to the classroom;
- A minimum of 15 hours of aide time per week, not counting recess duty;
- Morning recess duty to be covered by aides or other staff; teachers will cover extra recess in the late afternoons;
- 30 minutes of PE, library and music per week as teacher prep time;
- An additional three hours of PE, library and music each week (two 90-minute blocks for half the class at a time), allowing each half of the class to also have 90 minutes per week of small-group instruction;
- One extra parent-conference day (bringing it to five conference days per year). "Kinder parents like to meet more often than the two conferences" in the fall and spring, Baldwin wrote, and the conferences usually take longer than in other grades since it is children's first year in school.
Baldwin told the Weekly last month that additional remediation the district provided as part of the move to the full day — a guaranteed 10 hours each week of instructional aide time and remediation funds for classrooms with more than 20 students — was insufficient for many schools that already had close to that amount of aide time.
She wrote in an email Tuesday that the union's demands were driven by the fact that "kindergarten teachers valued small-group instruction to provide more individualized instructional time, which can be lost in a larger group."
The estimated cost of the union's requests is more than $700,000, according to Bowers. Bringing class sizes down to 18 students requires four additional teachers, he wrote in an email. The average cost of one full-time teacher, including salary and benefits, is $131,467, according to the district.
The requested increase in aide time would mean an additional $200,000 and the extra conference day about $12,000, according to Bowers. The district did not price the cost of having aides supervise morning recess, and the cost of the teacher prep time was already included in the board-approved program.
While "nothing has been agreed to yet" in negotiations, Superintendent Max McGee said Monday, the roll-out of full-day kindergarten is going "exceedingly well." He noted that only one family in the district has opted out of the longer school day, despite strong opposition from some parents before adoption.
While Barron Park and Palo Verde elementary schools already offered a full day, the majority of Palo Alto's elementary schools operated an "extended-day" model until last month. In that model, half of the kindergarten class stayed for a longer day, until around 2 p.m., two days each week, allowing teachers to work with students in smaller groups on a regular basis. Teachers who opposed moving to the full day worried it would mean the loss of this regular time with smaller groups, the "gold standard" of Palo Alto's kindergarten program, they said.
McGee said Tuesday, however, that elementary school teachers "by and large, at least what they're saying to us and I think we're hearing from the parents, is the upside is having more time to teach the existing curriculum, and the kids do have more time for more choice and more play."