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Rush to longer day at Gibbs could have cost district nearly $1 million

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County school officials realized late Thursday that they could have lost nearly $1 million if they moved ahead with a plan to lengthen the school day at academically troubled Gibbs High School by Wednesday.

At risk was funding for 240 special-education students, whose parents are entitled by federal law to have one-on-one meetings with teachers about changes to their kids' schedules.

The realization comes at a time when tensions are high in negotiations over the proposed change. Superintendent Julie Janssen met with her executive cabinet Thursday afternoon over when to start the new schedule. Meanwhile, teachers union representatives in another room stalled in their negotiations with the district over how Gibbs teachers should be paid for their extra time.

Both bargaining sides left the table at close to 7 p.m. still saying they hoped to start the new schedule Wednesday.

But Gibbs principal Kevin Gordon soon after sent out an automated phone message to parents informing them that it would probably be delayed until Oct. 18.

Only two days earlier, Gordon informed parents in another automated call that they were aiming to have the longer school day in place by Wednesday. The school has been talking about extending the school day since August, when the state named Gibbs on its list of poorest-performing schools.

As proposed, students would take eight classes instead of the current seven, and teachers would be asked to teach an additional hour every day.

School spokeswoman Andrea Zahn wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times Friday that the district became concerned Thursday afternoon that it wouldn't have all special education plans completed in time for the state's reporting deadline, which could result in the loss of about $960,000.

Leaders were also worried about meeting state class-size requirements. However, those discoveries weren't shared with the union officials, said Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association president Kim Black, who said she was baffled to read about the Oct. 18 date in Friday's Times.

"It certainly would have been nice to know at the time that we had a little more time to do this," she said Friday.

Janssen said the process is very complicated, calling the proposed change at Gibbs radical.

Rita Vasquez, an assistant superintendent, earlier this week said officials thought Wednesday was the latest the district could start the new schedule and still give students enough time to gain academic credit for the new course. But by Friday, Janssen said her staff had come up with a way to make time for the class by stealing minutes from elsewhere in the schedule.

Negotiations are expected to resume Tuesday at 2:30 p.m.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.

Rush to longer day at Gibbs could have cost district nearly $1 million 10/01/10 [Last modified: Saturday, October 2, 2010 12:35am]
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