Pinellas School Board chairwoman Peggy O'Shea said Monday she will float an alternative at today's board workshop to the controversial plan to release students early every Wednesday starting in the fall.
Rather than shortening the students' day to give teachers planning time, O'Shea will suggest teachers stay an hour longer on Wednesdays. Since they must be at school longer than students, teachers could leave 15 minutes early the other four days of the week without affecting children, O'Shea reasoned.
The "early release" day, a clause in the teachers' contract approved last week by the board 4-3, has prompted a flurry of e-mails from parents caught off guard by the decision and worried about having to arrange for additional after-school care.
"I wish I had thought of this sooner, but the whole early release thing came to us so late in the game," O'Shea said. "We never really had a conversation about it until it got put into the contract."
But even if union representatives agree to her solution, it would face several hurdles, said School Board attorney Jim Robinson. Among them:
• The contract would have to go back to the bargaining table.
• The teachers would have to ratify it again.
• And then the board would have to vote on it again.
Still, the suggestion is more viable than reconsidering or rescinding the contract the board voted on last week. In an e-mail to board members late Monday, Robinson explained that a motion to reconsider a vote can be made only on the day the vote is taken. Further, he wrote, a motion to rescind is not possible in a case such as this one, where "action taken was in the nature of a contract."
Despite parent concern, all four board members who voted for the contract, and thus the early release day, including O'Shea, said they would vote for it again if it was presented in the same way.
"I stand firm on it," board member Mary Brown said.
"We have to have faith that our union represents the teachers and that our superintendent has done her homework," board member Robin Wikle said.
Union president Kim Black said she would be willing to take O'Shea's proposal back to union reps, but indicated that no changes are likely at this point for the coming school year.
"The negotiations have been completed, and the contract has been ratified on both sides," Black said. "Any concerns would have to go through the bargaining process to be looked at for 2010-11."