Tuesday, May 12, 2015

School board adopts amended proposal for new school day and year

At the school board meeting tonight, many members of the public spoke about the administration’s proposal to change the school day and year. None of them were in favor of it. Most speakers—including at least one pediatrician and several high school students—focused on the harms of making teenagers start school at 7:45.

After hearing the community comment, several board members seemed reluctant to move forward with the change, especially given how little opportunity the community had had to learn about it. But the board was concerned about the collective bargaining implications of not going forward with the proposal, since the proposal was the basis of a tentative agreement with the teachers’ union about work hours. If the board did not go ahead with the change, it might then set negotiations back and have other bargaining consequences. The board went into a private session to discuss the bargaining implications with district administrators.

When they returned, the board members quickly approved a modified version of the administration’s proposal. The proposal was exactly the same, except that everything had been shifted fifteen minutes later. So elementary school will go from 8:45 - 3:45, while junior high and high school will go from 8:00 to 3:10. The school year will be 175 days long instead of 180; the summer break will be thirteen weeks long. As I understand it, time lost to weather cancellations will not be made up (unless it brings the total hours below 1080, which is unlikely).

Given the way events unfolded, I’m sticking with my initial hypothesis. My guess is that if the board had insisted on maintaining the current school day and the 180-day year, the union would likely have insisted on additional pay to compensate them for the longer year. That, in turn, might have forced the board to go through another round of budget cuts like those we experienced last year. Let’s hope that tonight’s discussion about cutting back the school year will be in lieu of a discussion about more program cuts.

I don’t blame the teachers’ union for negotiating the best deal it can get for its members, and I don’t blame the school board for facing reality if the options were limited. I appreciate that they were able to take some of the edge off the early start time. I do blame the Governor and the state legislature for preferring tax cuts and teacher leadership programs to general school funding.

The losers tonight? Teenagers, who will now start school at 8:00 instead of 8:05 or 8:10, though at least that’s not as bad as it might have been. Elementary schoolers, who will now have to add another half hour to the six hours they’re already cooped up in class, all in the name of “more time on task.” Working parents, who will have to line up three more weeks of child care over the summers (which probably means over $1000 per child per year). Members of the public, who learned about the proposal only a few days ago and never got the full story of what is driving the change. And, if my hypothesis is right, teachers, who might have preferred to work a longer year for commensurate pay, rather than three fewer weeks for presumably less pay.

Winners? I suppose the people and corporations who got the biggest tax cuts from the Branstad administration.


Mary Murphy said...

I did not go to or see the meeting. If elementary schoolers are going to get “more time on task,” then does the board have a plan for curriculum changes (e.g. in addition to helping those students who need additional support, is it going to add more enriched programming for students who are capable of it so they are not just waiting for the day to end)? Also, I know from raising kids that many students perform better when they are not given "more time on task." Will schools add more time for kids to physically move around so it is easier for the kids to pay attention when they do have to sit down?

Chris said...

Mary -- Great questions. I would be all in favor of devoting the entire additional half hour to recess (which does count as instructional time under state rules). Even better, I wish the district would use some of that time to make elementary school lunch longer than a measly fifteen minutes, though I understand that any increase in lunch would not count toward the state's 1080-hour requirement. (From the superintendent's numbers this evening, I gather that they are still giving only fifteen minutes, not twenty.)

However, from the way the superintendent was talking, I do not believe they plan to use any of the time in that way. It sounds like the plan is 30 more minutes of class time, regardless of whether that's actually educationally sound or developmentally appropriate.

Anonymous said...

I really feel that between this and the new zoning this school board doesn't have the student's interests as a priority, the amount of unnecessary time spent in route to and from school and the times these kids will need to wake up are going to be ridiculous.

Chris said...

A few more thoughts:

First, I really don't get why they don't just call this a budget cut and put the blame on the state where (I think) it belongs. This business about desperately needing what comes out to about 40 more elementary school hours is just insulting to people's intelligence. It's even worse if they really believe it.

Second, just think how hungry those elementary school kids are going to be when they get home (at 4:00 or later!). Really, something has to be done about the 15-minute lunch, and now the district has that much less of an excuse for doing nothing about it.

Third, this morning, we're hearing from a lot of people who are going to find it hard to get their kids to school at 8:45 and still get in to work on time. Again, if this is all driven by lack of funding, I can accept that there are limited options. But to make a change like this on four days notice to the community is a disaster. And more like four seconds notice about the 8:45 start. Even if the options are all awful, it just makes sense to have much more opportunity for public comment before making a change -- if only so you can know the full implications of what the choices are. The district really blew it with that.

Anonymous said...

The P-C says the last day of school will be May 25.

The Gazette says the year runs from Aug. 24 to May 29.

(I wrote to both to point out the discrepancy.)

Do you know which is correct?

Chris said...

As I understand it, the year will run from August 24 until May 25. Not sure where the Gazette got those dates.

Unknown said...

We've had word that after school elementary band will run from 4:15 to 5:15 pm next year.