Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Dispute over Pinellas middle school schedule continues

Pinellas County middle schools will begin the second semester today under a legal cloud that has been gathering for months.

The teachers union is expected to file a lawsuit this morning intended to kill a new seven-period middle school schedule that, according to an arbitrator, violates the teachers' contract.

The district, meanwhile, took its own action late Monday by stating that it is at an impasse with the union over the schedule, a formal declaration that typically leads to mediation.

In short, the sides are proposing two very different ways of settling a long-running dispute. But it was unclear Monday which method would take precedence — battling it out in court or talking it out with a third party.

Either way, officials said schools would be untouched today and operate as usual. But the outcome could eventually affect students and teachers.

If a judge ordered the district to return to the old six-period day this semester, the district says Pinellas' 22,000 middle school students would face major disruptions.

Lost electives could keep some from advancing to high school or getting into magnet programs, and the schedules would be turned on their heads just before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — consequences superintendent Julie Janssen called unacceptable.

Yet if the arbitrator's decision is not enforced, the union says, about 1,500 middle school teachers would be victims of a galling contract violation that consigns them to work harder and lose lesson planning time, all for the same pay.

"We're simply asking the judge to confirm the arbitrator's (decision)," said Mark Herdman, the union's lawyer.

Not even the School Board is of one mind on the issue.

"I guess it's just the teacher in me but I'm siding with the teachers in this," said board member Janet Clark, a former middle school teacher. "I have to. We have a contract, and I think the district has violated the contract."

Board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea said both sides have good arguments, but added that mediating the dispute while keeping the new schedule intact was best for students.

"Both sides have a common commitment and that's the kids," she said.

The issue goes back to June, when the School Board approved the schedule change as a budget-cutting measure, but also as a way to reform middle schools and meet state mandates. The district lengthened the school day by 14 minutes and added a seventh period that made room for state-mandated PE and remedial courses.

The change also cleared space for elective courses that are said to get students more engaged in school before they hit high school, when many start to lose interest and drop out.

But in tough budget times the measure saved $2.2-million, allowing the district to comply with the class size amendment without hiring more teachers.

Starting in August, middle school teachers were required to teach six classes instead of the maximum of five called for in their contract.

On Nov. 26, an arbitrator ruled that the new schedule violated the contract and ordered the district to return to the six-period schedule by today. Instead, the district focused on a nonbinding portion of the ruling in which the arbitrator expressed concern about the district's budget crisis and hoped for a compromise.

Janssen "is faced with a Hobson's choice. And if she's going to err, it's on the side of protecting students," School Board attorney Jim Robinson said. "It's not as if we're being cocky and just ignoring the arbitrator's award."

Dispute over Pinellas middle school schedule continues 01/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 7:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: Wilson Ramos showing glimpses of what's possible in 2018


    The real payoff for the Rays signing C Wilson Ramos last off-season will come in 2018, when he can play a full season fully recovered from right knee surgery.

    And Ramos is giving the Rays a pretty good glimpse of what that can be like.

    In Friday's 8-3 win over the Orioles, he hit a grand slam - …

  2. Buccaneers-Vikings Scouting Report: Watching Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen and Everson Griffen


    No matter how much film we study, no matter how much data we parse, we just don't know how an NFL season will unfold.

  3. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  4. Sue Carlton: Job or family when a hurricane's coming — a very Florida conundrum


    It must seem as foreign to Northerners as shoveling snow is to those of us raised in the Sunshine State: The very-Florida conundrum of having to choose between work and family — between paycheck and personal safety — when a hurricane comes.

    A hurricane helps the rest of us acknowledge the police officers, paramedics, hospital personnel, public works employees and others who stay on the job despite the storm. 
  5. After Tampa concert, Arcade Fire members party, preach politics at Crowbar


    After waiting more than a decade for Arcade Fire’s first appearance in Tampa, fans didn’t have to wait long for their second.

    DJ Windows 98, a.k.a. singer Win Butler of Arcade Fire, performed at a "Disco Town Hall" at Crowbar following the band's concert at the USF Sun Dome on Sept. 22, 2017.