Planning change is OK’d

By Bryan Richardson

The USD 383 school board accepted the first reading of a plan to increase elementary teachers’ planning and collaboration time during the next two school years Wednesday.

Next year, elementary teachers would have eight days of professional development, eight early releases for collaboration and 330 minutes of planning time per week. Currently, there are five early release days, three professional development days, no weekly collaboration time and 300 planning minutes per week.

The estimated cost of that change is $128,800, which equates to about 0.22 mills based on the current assessed valuation. A decision hasn’t been made on whether the change will be funded by raising the local option budget. The impact on the tax bill of the owner of an average $175,000 home would be slightly more than $4 per year.

For the 2014-15 school year, elementary collaboration time would be increased 60 minutes per week in addition to the previous changes.

That will bring the total estimated cost of the changes to $450,000 to hire the minimum of 9.8 faculty members, including seven technology teachers, that would be needed.

Supt. Bob Shannon said the “rigor, expectations and complexity” of the upcoming common core standards and assessment changes make this plan necessary.

“I think it’s time to do it,” he said. “We’ve talked for several years, and we’ve made some gains with the 30 (additional planning time) minutes, math enrichment and a few other tweaks a few years ago.”

The board passed the plan 5-1 with Walt Pesaresi dissenting. Pesaresi voted against the plan because he wanted the change to happen next year rather than over two years. He said his concern was that other budget uncertainties — state funding, effects of federal sequestration, implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, renewal of the February military student count day, wages and salaries for next year, and decreases in new facility weighting factor — might combine to overwhelm implementation of the second year of the project.

“If we don’t, we’re never going to get it,” Pesaresi said. “It won’t happen next year.”

Board member Beth Tatarko said those changes could result in $1-2 million in additional needed revenue for the district. She said the recommendation does advance elementary teachers’ planning time in the right direction even if it’s “one step at a time.”

“As long as we keep making progress, I feel like we’re doing the right things for teachers,” Tatarko said.

Board member Pete Paukstelis agreed that the district is facing many financial uncertainties. “I don’t know that we’ve had a more uncertain time in terms of finances in my eight years on the board,” he said.

Paukstelis said the elementary task force made an excellent case for the collaboration time. His board term, along with Pesaresi’s and Tatarko’s, will end before the board votes on a budget.

“If I was going to vote on a budget, I’d vote to increase the taxes that are necessary to cover this,” Paukstelis said.

Board member Darell Edie said he will push for the board to follow through with the implementation of the rest of the plan for the 2014-15 school year.

During the discussion, Pesaresi made comments interpreted by board member Leah Fliter as pitting elementary teachers against high school teachers.

Pesaresi wondered why high school teachers have two open periods to have a period of professional learning time even though elementary teachers have multiple subjects to plan.

Fliter said “it’s improper, it’s shameful, and it’s not healthy” to make comments that seem to pit the teachers against each other.

The board’s other high school-related votes included pushing for MHS administration to develop a 2013-14 schedule that allows for PLT for collaboration within academic disciplines and uses duty time beyond teaching and planning time exclusively for professional development or collaboration activities.

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