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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Changing middle school day could save Hillsborough $10 million



TAMPA -- Hillsborough County school officials say they're planning to boost the number of middle school periods from six to seven per day this fall.

The district says it will save $10 million compared to the cost of hiring more teachers to comply with class-size caps coming into force in August. And struggling students who couldn't fit electives into their schedule due to their remedial classes will now be able to take that art class or join the band.

"This was driven by kids and what they need," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

But around 200 members of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association saw it differently last week. The union representatives voted unanimously to oppose the new schedule, said Nick Whitman, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association.

On paper, the union has no grounds to bargain on the actual changes, he said. With either schedule, teachers can teach up to 300 minutes a day and prepare up to three separate courses.

"But what they do need to negotiate with us on is the impact of this," Whitman said.

For example, English or special-needs teachers might see more students and get more paperwork. Such changes would require concessions from the district, he said.

There's more than a little deja vu in all of this. Readers might recall the 2007 flap when the district made the same changes at the high school level.

This time around, the district reached out to notify the union of its plans before the winter break, said HCTA president Jean Clements.

District-union relations are on a better footing, thanks to their recent partnership in winning a $100 million teacher effectiveness grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But the new schedule is still going to mean heavier workloads for teachers, she said.

"I think they're trying to handle this better than when the high school moved from six to seven periods," Clements added. "The feedback we have from middle school teachers was a little less agitated than what we're hearing even right now from the high school teachers."

What do you think? Does the upside for middle school students outweigh the potential downside for their teachers?

-- Tom Marshall, Times staff writer

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[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:47am]


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