SPRING HILL — A man's decision to barricade himself inside his house near Spring Hill Elementary School last month has sparked another standoff of sorts, this time between Hernando superintendent Bryan Blavatt and the local teachers union.
Before dawn on Jan. 23, a 43-year-old man threatened to harm himself and any law enforcement officers who came to his house on Parnell Avenue, just a block west of the campus. The Sheriff's Office blocked off the area, and Blavatt made the decision to cancel the entire school day for students and employees.
The school's 54 teachers were paid for the day. Now, the superintendent wants teachers to make up that time, a move the union says would violate its contract.
"The guiding force for me is, I can't in good conscience as a custodian of the school district pay someone who doesn't work," Blavatt told the School Board at its meeting Tuesday night.
The issue came up as the board considered a vote to amend the school calendar for Spring Hill Elementary students, allowing them to attend 179 days this year instead of 180. The state sets a minimum number of student instruction hours. But even with the lost day, students will get enough teaching time.
The teacher contract is for 197 days, however, so Blavatt maintains the district can require them to make up the missed day.
Wrong, the head of the teachers union told the board.
Teachers should have been directed that day to show up at another school campus, where they could have helped out or tackled some of their own work, Vitalo said.
Instead, they were told to stay home. With that, the district surrendered its right to require teachers to work another day, Vitalo said.
"These employees, they didn't get on an airplane to go to Vegas for the day; they didn't go to the beach for the day," he said. "They stayed home working."
Blavatt was not swayed.
"There's no provision in any of our management agreements for people to be paid to work at home, so if they weren't physically present (at school), they weren't working," he said.
The teachers have been given several options to make up the days. One is to report to school on April 6, which is Good Friday, when teachers and students are scheduled to be off.
Teachers who don't want to work that day can use a personal day or accumulated flex time.
Not mentioned Tuesday night is another option already offered to teachers, Heather Martin, the district's executive director of business services, told the Times on Wednesday: Teachers can accumulate and document flex time between now and April 6.
"We know our teachers are working above and beyond," Martin said. "It's not about sticking them for the 73/4 hours. It's about being fair to all employees."
That's still a contract violation by requiring them to work extra hours, Vitalo said.
The board ultimately voted to table the matter to give its attorney time to review applicable laws and the teacher contract. The board won't vote on the makeup day, but can give Blavatt direction on how to proceed, Martin said.
Vitalo said the union is prepared to file a grievance with the School Board, which could lead to a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.
The issue has been a source of confusion and frustration for Spring Hill's teachers, said Melinda Barrett, a third-grade teacher and the union's building representative.
Few, if any, want to come in April 6 or burn a personal day. And while plenty of teachers stay late, it's not easy for others to accumulate flex time, she said.
The closing of a single school, though rare, highlights the need for a contingency plan, Barrett said.
"In a way," she said, "they're feeling more pressured to compensate for something the county office doesn't have set up."
The district, Martin said, is already working on it.