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Officials want some shorter school days

Hernando County School Superintendent Harold Winkler is pushing to give students an occasional afternoon off next year so teachers can have more planning time.

Winkler is proposing early-release days, which would give teachers at least an extra hour or more to attend in-service workshops or district meetings, discuss curriculum and work on long-range goals.

"We tend to implement things like (the) whole-language (arts program) and we never have the time to pull them together and make them work," Winkler said. "Teachers don't have that time, and I'm trying to give them that."

Two weeks ago, the School Board tabled the early-release issue because some board members expressed concern about child care for younger children whose parents might be at work when school lets out early.

Tuesday night, the administrative staff will have an informational workshop for the School Board to discuss how early release would work and what would be accomplished during that time. The workshop begins at 6 p.m. in the district meeting room on 919 N Broad St. in Brooksville. The regular board meeting is at 7 p.m.

For one early-release day each week, four days of the week would be slightly longer to accommodate it.

Administrators have devised an early-release schedule: High schools and middle schools would begin at 7:40 a.m. and end at 1:10 p.m., rather than the normal time of 2:20 p.m. Elementary schools would start at 9 a.m. and end at noon, rather than 3:20 p.m.

Every school would have the same early-release day. But it remains to be decided whether the days would be scheduled once a week, several times a month or some other schedule.

Winkler said teachers would not use the extra hours as personal time to go to the doctor, run errands or go home. They would be expected to stay until the school's regular dismissal time.

Whatever the School Board decides, district officials said next year's school hours will be established to ensure that no classes begin earlier than 7:30 a.m. and no school dismisses later than 3:30 p.m.

Board member Susan Cooper first raised the concern about day care. Cooper said if the board had agreed on the early-release day at the May 18 meeting, parents would have been out on a limb.

She said parents needed to have advance notice of the board's discussion because some might have to change their work schedules if the board goes with the early-release day.

"I would love for my children to come home early because I'm home. But the majority of parents are not," Cooper said.

She said other than making sure parents' opinions are heard, she agrees with the plan.

Winkler said the administrative staff has been discussing the matter with the Hernando County Family YMCA, which offers an after-school program for elementary pupils, to see if the YMCA can handle more children next year. He said he will have more information on that question Tuesday night.

Besides giving teachers more planning time, Winkler said another benefit to an early-release day is money.

Winkler estimates that the district could save at least $40,000 by cutting the number of substitutes needed to cover teachers' classes while they attend instructional meetings.

If the early-release day is accepted, Winkler said, substitutes no longer will be needed because teachers could attend programs during that time.

Even though there may be cost savings, Winkler said, "it's not as much as a motivator as it is giving teachers the time they need to meet as professionals."

Winkler said early release is a negotiable item that has to be discussed with the teachers union. He said the board may decide in a closed strategy session whether to pursue the early-release days.

Cynthia Moore of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association said at the last School Board meeting she had no problem with early-release days, but the issue would have to be discussed in contract negotiations.

If the two sides agree to begin scheduling the days, the union and the district would negotiate how often early-release days would be scheduled.