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With last of school set for a Monday, Hillsborough calendar faces more changes

TAMPA — With the ink barely dry on the latest changes to the Hillsborough County school calendar for this year, School Board members say they want to reopen the contentious issue once again.

The reason? When they voted Tuesday to approve contracts for teachers and staff, members say they inadvertently moved the last day of school to a most inconvenient day of the week.

Monday.

"Coming back on a Monday just doesn't fly," said member Jack Lamb. "It's ridiculous. It's an error, and it's got to be straightened out."

To be sure, board members had a lot to keep their eyes on at Tuesday's meeting.

In addition to giving teachers and staff a 2 percent raise in the contracts, the district created a four-day weekend beginning on March 18 and canceled classes for the week of Thanksgiving.

It also agreed to 14 early-release days for teacher planning and early dismissal on the last day of school, which parents lined up to oppose at the board meeting.

Grappling with all those changes, Lamb said he had no idea the last day of school in the revised calendar, June 13, was at the wrong end of a weekend. Neither did members Doretha Edgecomb, April Griffin or chairwoman Susan Valdes.

"It was definitely an oversight on my part," said Valdes. "Because I didn't really look at the dates. We were really focusing on the community's concern on the early release days."

Griffin said district staff bore some responsibility for failing to notify board members of the changes, which came after a committee finished work last spring resolving another flap involving holding classes on Good Friday.

"I do feel a little sandbagged," she said. "I would predict absenteeism being a major issue."

Even teachers' union director Nick Whitman said he had failed to grasp the significance of the change during contract talks. He was focusing on the last work day for teachers, which comes two days after the end of classes.

"Did I realize that it was moving the last student day to Monday?" he asked. "I don't think I did."

Several board members said they wanted to reopen the issue and consider one more change at their meeting this Tuesday — eliminating an extra day in the district's calendar beyond the 180 for which the state provides money. Doing so could put the end of school back on Friday, June 10.

"We could say we're doing 180 days and that's it," Edgecomb said. "It is probably worth addressing it and looking at it.

"Do we look ridiculous in some ways because we continue to change the calendar? Or are we being practical, to say it's not in the best interest of families to end it on Monday?"

Heather Davis, whose children attend Kingswood Elementary, said the changes were infuriating.

Classes "have their parties the day before the last day," she said. "No one is going to come to school on Monday. What is the point?"

Families already have made travel plans and scheduled camp sessions, said Corinne Gaertner, whose children attend Robinson High.

"Parents are going to have to send kids late or risk not getting their deposits back," she added. "It's a travesty."

Sarah Varner, a senior at Hillsborough High, told the board last spring that April 25 was too late for spring break since students needed to rest up for exams. She said she was happy to learn of the mini-break in March, but disappointed to see members flip-flop on the calendar during contract talks.

"They gave the excuse that the calendar couldn't be changed," Varner said. "Yet they go and make all of these changes."

Whitman, the union director, said his members likely wouldn't need to redo the contract vote if the district shortened the student calendar, as long as they didn't alter the number of working days for teachers.

District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said removing the 181st day would result in no loss of state funding, though it would take away teaching time.

And if board members conclude that little teaching gets done on the last day of school?

"Then maybe that's a good option," Hegarty said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

With last of school set for a Monday, Hillsborough calendar faces more changes 09/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 3, 2010 1:03am]

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