What do you think of ‘pilot program’?


by Frances Edstrom

On Tuesday, thousands of people will be inconvenienced for the convenience of a few. Dist. 861 schools are delaying school for two hours for "staff development."

Of course, it's a good thing to gather staff together for additional training. But isn't there a way to do so without sending parents of public and charter school students scrambling to make sure their school-age children are going to be supervised? Extra hours of childcare are expensive, as is taking time off from a job. I suppose parents can take vacation or sick days to cover this time, but that steals from their family vacation plans, or leaves them with less time off for real illness, either theirs or their child's.

Supt. Paul Durand pointed out that the district has tried to mitigate the inconvenience by providing childcare at each building, but in some cases that care must be paid for and in all cases, parents must provide transportation for children who go to school early. No matter what, families are being asked to sacrifice resources that are often already strained to the limit.

And parents are not the only ones who lose. If they must stay home from work, the employer loses that amount of productivity. Deadlines are not met, business is jeopardized.

District Curriculum Director Susan Roehrich told the school board on Thursday night that the two-hour school delay on Tuesday is a pilot program. District administration says the staff development school delay was scheduled to get the highest level of participation from the teachers. Supt. Durand pointed out that the administration must work within the constraints of the teachers contract. In addition, if the district were to take an entire day, not simply a few hours, the state would not pay the district for that day, yet the district would have to pay its teachers.

According to their contract, the Dist. 861 teachers are required to work "” "hours of service" "” an 8-hour day. However, the contract also says that although the teachers must report thirty minutes before classes begin, they only are required to stay "at least" 15 minutes after the end of classes. This does not add up to an 8-hour day every contract day, even considering preparation work teachers might do at home. But this contractual language plus the real constraints on teachers' time in acting as coaches and advisors does not allow for an extended day for them after the school day is over.

So the union contract plus state legislation puts the district administration between a rock and a hard place in its effort to give teachers the training they need to function well, safely and efficiently.

I wonder how much of the vituperation we hear in remarks from the taxpayers about public schools comes from a general feeling of having nothing to say in making the schools more family-friendly? How much of this call for "communication" comes from wanting to know why we must be inconvenienced by union contracts and state rules?

Perhaps when negotiations with the union begin again for a new contract, it would behoove the administration, school board, and most of all the teachers union, to design it with the kids, parents and taxpayers in mind. Perhaps our new and returning state representatives and senators could effect changes in state law that would improve teacher preparedness without taking a toll on the families and taxpayers of Minnesota.

I am certain that the district administration is eager to get your feedback on this pilot program.


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