Friday, August 27, 2010

TOP STORY > >Start times still in flux after ruling

Leader staff writer

The only things certain in the Pulaski County Special School District are that starting Sept. 13, all elementary schools will have shorter days and through the first nine weeks, all schools will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., no matter the bell times.

Deb Roush, spokeswoman for the PCSSD, said at this point the district couldn’t say for certain that it would be returning to last year’s bell schedule. “We are taking into consideration parent concerns, traffic-safety issues and our transportation capabilities in our efforts to reset bell schedules.”

About two weeks before the start of school, the district decided to change the bell schedule, having elementary schools start at 7:30 a.m. and secondary start at 8:30 a.m.

At the same time, the district extended the elementary school day by 40 minutes to give teachers planning time within the instructional day.

Just before the district and the union were due in court Wednesday on that issue, the parties worked out an agreement that the elementary-student day would be six hours and 45 minutes long and that teachers would have 45 minutes of planning time before or after the student day.

The changes would go into effect no later than Sept. 13.

The agreement did not address the bell schedule at all.

Many parents voiced concern over the bell changes and teachers balked at the extended hours, and the union filed a lawsuit stating the extended time violated the teachers’ contract.

The district, responding to parent outrage, readjusted the bell schedule just days before the start of school, moving secondary to a 7:30 a.m. start time and the elementary schools to 8:30. Most elementary schools started at 8 a.m. last year.

In the meantime, the board called for a teacher vote to decide whether it should recognize the union, which it wasn’t doing, or continue to develop a personnel policy committee to act in behalf of the teachers and staff.

The extended hours were part of the policies and ideas coming with the policy committee’s plan.

But the teachers voted overwhelmingly to keep the union, meaning the teachers were working under their old contracts and made the extended day illegal.

“We are looking at a number of possibilities on the schedule,” Roush said. “The only thing I can say for certain at this time is that we know many parents have made arrangements under the current bell schedule, and we know it might be a hardship to make more changes, so we will keep the school buildings open from 7:30 to 4:30, (the hours that they are currently open) for the rest of this quarter.”

The quarter ends about the middle of October.

In a letter to parents on more than a week ago, five days before the agreement on the length of the school day, the superintendent, Dr. Charles Hopson, said, “While I know I can never please everyone with decisions I make as an instructional leader and superintendent, I want to be responsive as possible to the schools where traffic and other extenuating factors are creating extreme hardships.”

He said he had visited a number of schools and talked to parents who were “extremely elated about the new schedule and others who shared hardships” with him.

Hopson said he would also look at options with the district’s transportation department.

“Our limitation with our current transportation system is that the same bus and driver transport both the secondary and elementary students, and the window for our bell schedule is determined by the roughly 700 square miles the drivers must cover to get all students to school on time.”

Hopson added, “Our current model for the academic school year in this country is, for the most part, an agricultural model with the shortest school day and year of any industrialized country in the world.”

The superintendent said the White House is holding districts more accountable.

He closed his letter by saying, “We are about to embark on a journey as a learning community to reach our promise as a district in which failure is not an option. Our students cannot wait.”