TAMPA — It seemed like mission impossible, but a committee may have found a solution to the contentious debate over early-release days in Hillsborough County schools.
At a meeting Monday, members of the so-called Early Release Committee agreed to offer two ideas for the board — one costly, one free — that would provide teachers with planning time without disrupting school days or families' schedules.
Under the $94.7 million option, the district would simply eliminate the 12 such days that were placed in the calendar this year to the dismay of hundreds of parents. The plan would add one paid hour per day to teachers' schedules, plus four full days per year, to provide teachers with the planning and meeting time they have sought.
Under the cost-free option, once a week students would come to school an hour late. Teachers would hold their meetings during that first hour, and aides would provide activities and supervision for students who arrive early.
Chairwoman Melissa Erickson, who heads the county PTA/PTSA, said the $94.7 million option likely wasn't feasible in a tight budget year. But that's what it would cost to do everything the board wanted, she said.
Erickson described the late-start option, which costs nothing, as a "real-world solution" that drew praise from many on the committee.
"The student members were pretty enthusiastic about starting late," she said. "And teachers thought it wouldn't be too disruptive."
Still, the plan faces hurdles. The board must approve all calendar changes for next year, and early-release days are part of teachers' contracts.
"There is a bargaining process, and it could go some place different than this," said teachers union president Jean Clements.
Teachers also would prefer more than an hour at a time for planning, she said. "They need a chunk of time."
For a price, the School Board could provide it. But officials said the $4.1 million cost of providing one full day of planning for all 12,500 teachers, including salary and utilities, might be too steep.
One member of the committee voiced concern about a process that kept the district calendar in flux until the second week of September.
"I firmly believe that we need to include a drop-dead date for the calendar," said parent Dianna Lott.
But overall, she said, the committee has done a good job of making sure parent voices are heard.
The committee will meet once more to finalize its plan, and board member Candy Olson said she will request a workshop to discuss the issue.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.