UPDATE: School times are still up for debate
Pinellas County parents may have been caught off guard by a plan to close schools one hour early every Wednesday next year, but it may not be a done deal, Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Peggy O'Shea told Whoa, Momma! in a phone interview today. The board will be having a workshop on Tuesday and she's urging parents to keep making their wishes known. The e-mail address that reaches all board members is firstname.lastname@example.org.
O'Shea said she reluctantly voted for the plan last week because it was tied up in a package of teacher contract negotiations. To vote against the early release day was to vote down the contract and go back to negotiations, she said. "But I was not happy about it. Too many people had questions and they didn't even get parents or the school advisory committees involved."
The idea to give teachers planning time may be a good one. But it's never been debated publicly, she noted. Parents have questions -- such as what happens to students who have Gifted class, art or music on Wednesdays or if the disruption is worth the one hour of planning time -- that haven't been addressed publicly. Heck, the school district has yet to even alert the parents of the coming changes by letter, e-mail or the county's phone bank system to let them know they may need to adjust work schedules or child care.
As we reported, the school district has been planning for this early Wednesday schedule since at least March, but O'Shea and other School Board members said they only found out about it a few weeks ago themselves.
"Maybe this can be a good idea, but I don't think even the teachers want this," O'Shea said. Some 3,000 teachers didn't even vote on it, and those that did passed it by 55 percent. On a school level, it takes 75 percent of teachers to approve a change in working conditions, "so I don't think (the union) can say they have consensus here."
O'Shea said she doesn't know if it's possible to separate the issue out, but she will be bringing it up at Tuesday's workshop.
UPDATE: O'Shea has been inundated with media inquiries and wants to clarify what she is hoping for. "Maybe there's a better solution. Let's see if we can give everybody what they want." She wants to explore giving the teacher's flex time so they can stay longer on one day to get their planning done and be free to leave earlier on other days.
"Rather than a flexible week for the students, make it a flexible week for the teachers." The other bonus would be letting the schools themselves decide what they want, or what day they want to stay later and leave earlier, without affecting when the kids come and go.
She is also open to other ideas of working within the contract, such as making the short day Friday, as some parents have suggested. But reopening the contract for negotiations is last on her list, she said.
-- Sharon Kennedy Wynne