School board approves SPALC, TALC contracts
The Lee County School Board approved the 2009-10 contracts for teachers and support personnel Tuesday afternoon.
The board approved the three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Support Personnel Association of Lee County 4-1, and the one-year agreement with the Teacher’s Association of Lee County 4-1.
Donna Mutzenard, from the Teacher’s Association of Lee County, addressed the board and said the local teachers’ union supports the contracts ratified by district employees last week.
Seventy-three percent of teachers and 78 percent of support personnel ratified their contracts. Ratifications in past years have included more district employees voting in favor of tentative contracts.
Although support was less than expected this year, union leaders and district officials were confident to move forward with board approval.
The new contract moves instructional scheduling to a four-by-four block schedule. Educators will instruct for seven out of eight periods over two days.
Some secondary teachers have voiced opposition at the change because it eliminates daily planning periods, and they claim it increases teacher workload.
Board member Robert Chilmonik voted against both contracts.
“I am concerned about the structure and length of the contract in these hard economic times,” he said about the three-year SPALC contract. “The board hasn’t discussed in detail other cost reductions to mitigate some of these hard decisions we have to make.”
In the discussion of the TALC contract, Chilmonik said there are only two other school districts in Florida that employ the four-by-four block schedule.
“I am concerned about the academic piece of it and what teachers will be expected to do,” he said.
Some parents in the district are afraid that the block schedule may contribute to absenteeism, specifically if days are split between academic classes and electives.
For example, a student may choose to not attend school on a day when they have academic classes and instead go only to their electives.
Board chairman Jane Kuckel asked Superintendent James Browder to draw data on absenteeism after the block schedule is implemented, as well as hand out surveys for teachers and students. Later, the district will compile the data to determine the effectiveness of block schedules.
Currently, the district has no data or statistics to support whether the block schedule is effective in improving academic achievement, but Kuckel said any data collected can be used to improve what is already in place.
“We will begin to tweak it so we don’t lose academic time and the things we brought up today,” she said.
Board member Elinor Scricca explained that she witnessed the effectiveness of the block schedule in another school district, but she acknowledged split opinions over the four-by-four block schedule, referring to it as a “big bone of contention.”
“It worked academically from the point of view of teachers who had far more space and time to reach the youngsters. There was more time to identify strategies of teaching and learning,” Scricca said.
Board member Jeanne Dozier lauded the two bargaining groups for striking a deal under harsh economic circumstances.
“It was a very difficult task. It’s always a difficult task going into the meeting knowing there isn’t enough adequate funding to fund education. It’s hard to sit up here and say, ‘I applaud all of you,’ but I do applaud you,” she said.
Browder defended block scheduling by pointing out that state education officials have mandated 90 minutes of instruction — the equivalent of two 45-minute periods — for FCAT level one students.
It would have been simple for the district to switch to a six-period day and save $15 million, he said, but the four-by-four schedule is beneficial to students.
“It’s easy to come up here and find fault, but it is difficult to look at the faces and try to do what is right for children and adults,” said Browder.
Whether district employees receive a bonus will depend on how much money is used in a shortfall fund to fill budget gaps.
If the fund contains more than $27 million, employees will receive a 2 percent bonus. If it is between $10 million and $26 million, they will receive 1 percent. If it is less than $10 million, they will receive nothing.
The board also voted 4-1 to reduce district staff by nine employees from a number of departments including career specialists, TV production, data specialists, information specialists, school secretaries and media center technology specialists.
Chilmonik was the dissenting vote.