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Hillsborough parents demand district end early release days

TAMPA — A tentative agreement reached Tuesday between the teachers union and the school district keeps the number of days when school lets out early next year at 15 — the same as before.

But some parents want none at all and say they won't stop until they prevail.

About 50 parents gathered at the Old Hyde Park Art Center on Tuesday night to express their anger and pepper school officials, board members and candidates with questions.

"Half-days break into a child's educational time," said Jamie Blumenthal, a mother of two elementary school kids. "Kids need to be in school five full days a week."

Blumenthal and her husband, Russell Blumenthal, organized the town hall meeting after a Facebook page they started opposed to early release days earned more than 1,000 fans in just a few weeks. Blumenthal said she hoped the meeting would open communication between parents and the schools.

"We deserve answers, and we deserve a conversation," she said.

Most parents demanded to know why early release days exist and how they can be done away with.

The answers were not so clear.

There to try to provide them were School Board member and candidate for District 2 Candy Olson; candidates for District 6 Sally Harris and Benjamin Fink; Danny Alvarez as a representative for candidate for District 2 Frank Hernandez; and school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

After the meeting, David Pogorilich of Temple Terrace said he felt his voice had been heard but wasn't sure if anything would come of it.

Russell Blumenthal said the battle wasn't over. He is planning to get parents to show up at the next School Board meeting Tuesday, he said.

There is still time to change the upcoming schedule, he said.

The contract must be ratified by the union's members and then the School Board must approve it before it takes effect.

It has to be accepted or rejected as a whole, though, including salary increase, health insurance and other issues.

Early release days began in Hillsborough County in 2008 with one Wednesday per month in an effort to provide more teacher planning time.

In 2009, five more early release days were added as a compromise with the union's request for weekly ones.

Also included in the tentative deal made Tuesday are 2 percent step increases on the salary scale for teachers, with those at the top of the scale getting $1,000, said Nick Whitman, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

Like last year, the tentative contract calls for students to be off during the week of Thanksgiving.

There would also be a four-day weekend near the end of March, Whitman said.

A separate addendum spells out changes caused by an education reform grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he said.

"We had already discussed everything but it all had to be put in ways that would fit the contract," Whitman said.

A tentative contract agreement was also reached Tuesday for eligible noninstructional employees such as bus drivers and custodians.

It includes a 2 percent step increase similar to the one for teachers, schools spokesman Hegarty said.

Fast facts

Early release days

The proposed early release dates for the 2010-11 school year as set by the tentative contract agreement are: Sept. 15 and 29; Oct. 13 and 27; Nov. 10; Dec. 8; Jan. 12 and 26; Feb. 9 and 23; March 9; May 11, 25; and June 8 and 10.

Students are dismissed two hours early on all the dates, except June 10 — the last day of school — when they are released 2 1/2 hours early.

Hillsborough parents demand district end early release days 08/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 11:08pm]
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