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Panel to ponder planning time for teachers

Pasco teachers might wind up with extra planning time after all.

Union president Liz Geiger and John Long, administrative assistant to the superintendent, have agreed to form a committee to consider the issue.

The United School Employees of Pasco had asked for just such a committee during contract negotiations, but district negotiators, who represent the administration, ignored the proposal.

Long said that he and Geiger discussed the committee idea at length late Tuesday night and decided to pursue it. Long will pick administrators for the group and Geiger will pick teachers to serve. The committee will research how other school districts manage to provide extra planning time for teachers, who say that they need more time because of classroom reforms.

Teachers often work in teams now and say they need time to plan as a team. Also, teachers are responsible for writing curricula, including creating themes that pull together various academic subjects. For instance, children learning about the sea might study fish in science, draw sea creatures in art and write about trips to the beach. Planning such lessons, teachers say, takes a lot more time than planning traditional single-subject lessons.

It's not likely that giving teachers more planning time will involve dismissing children early, according to Long. He said the administration remains committed to making sure kids stay at schools.

Superintendent Tom Weightman had rejected the idea of early dismissal because he believes children need to be in school. He also had said that early dismissal days would be a hardship for working parents who would have to work out after-school child care.

A Times story reported Wednesday that Geiger planned to tell teachers to refuse to work on their own time. Teachers have said they must work before and after school and on weekends to get all of their planning done. Team members don't always have common planning time during the school day.

The district, Long said, didn't want the matter to become part of the teachers' contract.

"When it's in the contract it becomes carved in stone," he said, adding that the district wants to have the ability to easily change any policy regarding planning time.

"It'll give us a great deal more flexibility" to have a policy rather than a contractual agreement, Long said.

He wants the committee to research how other districts manage to provide planning time without dismissing school. Hillsborough, Pinellas and Hernando all use early dismissal days to provide more planning time for teachers.

Long also said that he believes Pasco teachers will have good ideas for how they have managed so far.

"There are some very creative things going on in our schools right now" that increase planning time, Long said. "We want to find out what those are."

The committee will boost morale, Geiger predicted.

"I'm encouraged by it. I think it will be a big morale boost for the teachers just to know that somebody (in the administration) thinks it's important enough to revisit it."

She will consider every option the committee comes up with.

"I'm willing to do anything that will improve things for teachers," Geiger said.

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