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Pinellas school task force off to rough start?



After more than 18 months of tense negotiations between the Pinellas County School District and the teachers union, there was one thing that both superintendent John Stewart and union president Kim Black agreed was a win for both sides and it had nothing to do with money or health insurance. That was the creation of a joint committee to review teacher planning time and flexible scheduling options.

Now it appears that the task force is off to a bit of a rough start.

In the contract agreement reached, the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association gave up early release Wednesday, starting in the 2013-14 school year. The practice, in which schools let out about an hour early every Wednesday, was intended to give teachers more planning time. It was popular with teachers, but many parents said it created child care issues, especially in the younger grades.

(It also has been opposed by the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Pinellas County Council of PTAs.) 

Union officials have said they didn't agree to end early release Wednesday because of outside pressures. But, as part of the concession, a task force would study how best to schedule schools so that students have ample learning time and teachers have enough planning time. The group then would make recommendations to the superintendent. 

Black has said the committee's work could be pivotal for the future of teaching and learning in the district.

Stewart, as one of his last acts as superintendent, named the district's representatives on the task force. It includes Ron Ciranna, head of human resources; Steve Swartzel, director of governmental relations; Kevin Smith, head of finance; and three principals, Kevin Hendrick, Susan Keller and Rob Ovalle.  

A couple of things stand out about the appointees. One, Ciranna and Swartzel were part of the district's negotiating team and were frequently at odds with union leaders. Two, no one on the team is from the district's curriculum staff - as one might expect from a group that intends to make recommendations about teaching and learning. 

Black, in her comments to board members Tuesday, said she was "surprised" by the members appointed by Stewart. She asked that the board reconsider the appointments and give Grego a chance to shape the team. The union plans to wait to appoint its members until after Grego starts and they can discuss the issue more.

If the team remains unchanged, it will be interesting to see how well the two sides can work together - will it be collaborative or resemble another bargaining session? 

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 6:53pm]


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