The proposal to extend the State College Area School District’s elementary school day is a possibility under the contract with the teacher’s union.
When the school district and the State College Area Education Association negotiated its current teacher contract, which began on July 1, 2015, and ends June 30, 2020, and addition was added to address the possibility of extending the elementary school day.
That resulted in an agreement between the two sides that requires the district to implement its extended day proposal, which adds 44 minutes to the elementary school day and pushes back the start time for middle and high school students, prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Last week, district administrators presented the school board with its most recent version of the proposal. The elementary school start time would move from 8:44 a.m. back to 8:10 a.m. and the day would end at 3 p.m. instead of 2:50 p.m. Middle and high school students would start at 8:40 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m. and their day would end at 3:42 p.m. and 3:40 p.m., respectively, instead of 3:12 p.m. and 3:16 p.m..
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Oct. 9, but if it votes no or tables the vote, the district might need to renegotiate part of the teacher contract before the plan could be implemented.
The teacher contract states that both sides agree the elementary school day needs to be re-examined and revised. To accomplish the goal, both parties were required to form a committee by March 1, 2016, to “collaboratively develop a contract amendment that supports adjusting our student day before the 2019-20 school year.”
The discussions between the district and the teachers union ultimately resulted in a memorandum of understanding drafted in April that states if the student day is lengthened by no more than 60 minutes no later than the 2018-19 school year, the teachers will receive an additional 30 minutes of planning time per day.
Under the current contract, teachers have 40 minutes per day of planning time. During that time, elementary students receive weekly art, library, physical education and music instruction time. On the fifth day of the week, teacher assistants supervise the children during a 40-minute recess period.
The extended day proposal adds a world language and culture course, which the district estimates could require 10 additional staff members and cost about $1 million annually, and the five special periods are increased from 40 to 50 minutes.
If the extended day proposal is implemented, teachers will not receive an increase in compensation, but will have about 70 minutes per day for planning. The proposal extends the day by 44 minutes, which means after the collectively bargained additional minutes of planning time, an elementary teacher will have about 24 minutes more per day to devote to instruction time, according to Superintendent Bob O’Donnell.
The addition to the contract also requires the union and the school board to vote on the change based on the language presented in the memorandum. In the spring, the union voted in favor of the change, according Eugene Ruocchio, SCAEA president.
The district has just more than 600 teachers, and less than 20 do not belong to the union, Ruocchio said. The union uses a majority voting method, according to the union’s constitution, but Ruocchio could not confirm the number of teachers who voted or the results. He could only confirm that the union voted in favor of the change.
“Our constitution requires us to have an informational meeting prior to the vote, which needs to happen within 76 hours,” Ruocchio said. “There are always conflicts and our constitution does not allow for absentee ballots.”
Regardless of the voting status of a teacher, he or she is allowed to speak in a public forum about the proposal, Ruocchio said.
To honor the MOU, the board needs to make a decision ahead of the 2018-19 school year.
Ahead of the October vote, the district will hold public information sessions at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Park Forest Middle School and Sept. 27 at Mount Nittany Middle School.