TAMPA — The rumors were flying Thursday in Hillsborough County: The teachers union had asked for a weekly early-release day for students, all because of the district's $202 million Gates reforms.
There was just one problem, said union and school district officials: The rumors were wrong.
"If that's what (is being) reported, it's absolutely false," said Nick Whitman, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
Earlier in the contract talks that began last month, Whitman said, his union did offer a proposal for a weekly early-release day next year — but only after the school district had proposed abandoning the current setup of 13 such days per year.
"The district's proposal stated they wanted the unilateral right to set the number of (early-release) days each year," Whitman said. "The district wanted the ability to go backwards."
Faced with a wide gulf on the issue, the two sides stopped actively discussing it — effectively leaving the question where it currently stands, with 13 early-release days per year.
And would the issue still be under discussion if the union's negotiating team was strongly interested in pursuing the idea?
"Absolutely," Whitman said.
District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe sought a correction Thursday to news reports linking the early-release proposals to the Gates reforms.
And she confirmed that district and union negotiators' interest in the early-release issue had faded, even before the controversy sprang up.
The idea of adding early-release days was never raised after contract talks turned Wednesday, for the first time, to the district's seven-year, $202 million reforms with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Union negotiators asked whether teachers might need more time to confer with peer evaluators and mentors, who will be conducting between four and 10 observations plus pre- and post-conferences in each district classroom next year. But they made no specific proposal.
Whitman acknowledged that the union's proposal for weekly early-release days — though highly popular among rank-and-file members — was far beyond what the School Board would likely consider.
"That's so far-fetched and so far away from where the board has been," Whitman said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.