TAMPA — Moving to end a protracted debate over its calendar, the Hillsborough County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to scale back the number of early-release days and move up the final school day.
The changes mean students' last day will be Friday, June 10, rather than the following Monday.
"We have a calendar," said board member Jack Lamb, voicing relief — and perhaps a little hope — that a contentious issue has been laid to rest for this fall.
It was only last week that the board had adopted teacher contracts that included 14 early-release days, the same number as last year.
But board members said they didn't realize they also had voted to move the final student day to a Monday, when they said absenteeism might run high. Some said parents were right to complain about the number of early-release days, especially one that had been scheduled for the last week of school.
"I'm very happy to see that this could be done in a week," said member Jennifer Faliero, who voted against the contracts over the issue last week but switched her vote Tuesday.
Jamie Blumenthal, one of dozens of parents who have called the early days a disruption, said the changes were a step in the right direction.
"It's a start," she said. "We've always wanted to get rid of them, but we understood there needed to be a compromise."
That compromise unfolded quickly as union and district officials sought changes that could be made without seeking a new vote on contracts for teachers and staff members.
Under the changes, students will now attend regular classes on May 25 and June 8, which had previously been designated as early-release days.
Teachers will work the same number of days as they previously agreed in voting to ratify the contracts. But Feb. 11 and March 7 — still student holidays for the Florida State Fair in western Hillsborough and Strawberry Festival in the eastern Hillsborough, respectively — will become teacher planning days.
The new calendar includes 180 teaching days, one less than before, and the same number required and partially funded by the state.
"There is no wiggle room now in our calendar," superintendent MaryEllen Elia said, referring to the potential for a hurricane to force another change.
Teachers and administrators have said the early-release days are sorely needed for planning with colleagues and meeting new responsibilities.
But teachers union president Jean Clements said her members voiced strong support for the latest changes in an informal e-mail survey.
"They gain eight hours in a full work day in February or March, when they probably really need it," she said.
Board members said they hope a new district committee can now find a better system for devising calendars.
This year's version was technically finished last spring, after another committee resolved a long-running controversy on whether to hold classes on Good Friday.
But then contract talks started, and new changes were introduced. School was canceled for the low-attendance Thanksgiving week, repeating a cost-saving measure tried last year, and a long weekend was inserted in March to break up a long stretch before spring break.
Each change created a new problem, said member April Griffin.
"I don't know that I want to use the calendar as a carrot or negotiating tool anymore," she added.
Property tax rate and budget approved
In other business Tuesday, the School Board unanimously approved a total budget of $2.9 billion for the 2010-11 school year. That includes a $1.7 billion operating budget, down 2.2 percent from last year.
To pay for those expenditures, board members approved a total property tax rate of $7.59 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, down from $7.69 last year. For a person owning a $100,000 house who takes the $25,000 homestead exemption allowed for school purposes, that would translate into a tax bill of about $569 for the school portion of property taxes.
Tom Marshall can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3400.