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Suit filed over longer middle school day

The Pinellas teachers union filed a lawsuit Tuesday hoping to force the School District to abandon a seven-period middle school schedule that the union claims violates the teachers' contract.

The suit, filed on behalf of all middle school teachers employed by the Pinellas School Board, asks the court to uphold an arbitrator's order that the district return to the old six-period day this semester.

District officials have maintained for months that reverting to the old schedule would be too disruptive for about 22,000 middle school students and that some would be forced to drop electives they need to get into special high school programs.

Superintendent Julie Janssen refused to reverse her stand despite the Nov. 26 ruling, adding that the change would come too soon before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in February and March.

Union president Kim Black said late Tuesday that she had hoped to avoid filing the suit.

"This is definitely something that could have been negotiated and worked through," Black said. "We have had ongoing discussions, but the options they presented to us traded one contract violation for another."

School Board attorney Jim Robinson said the district has negotiated in good faith with the union to reach a resolution. Among the possibilities: rolling out a new schedule based on a 300-minute instructional day that would allow room for teacher planning time.

"The union has rejected the district's proposals and has insisted on restoring the old schedule," Robinson said.

The standoff began in June, when the School Board voted to lengthen the school day by 14 minutes and add an additional period as a means of cutting $2.2-million from the budget. Officials said the change also would make room for elective courses aimed at getting students more engaged in academics before they reach high school.

Several teachers filed grievances, charging that the new schedule added to their class loads and shaved off planning time without providing additional pay. An arbitrator ruled in November that the new schedule violated the contract, which stipulates that secondary teachers will not teach more than five periods in a seven-period schedule, and ordered the district to return to the six-period schedule.

Robinson said the district intends to respond to the motion and most likely will seek to vacate the award on the grounds that the arbitrator exceeded his powers.

Suit filed over longer middle school day 01/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 10:42pm]
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