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District and Teachers’ Union Seal Crucial Agreement on Vast Cuts and Shorter Days

| April 18, 2011

The bargainers: teachers to the left, the district management to the right, well into the third hour of their negotiating session this evening. (FlaglerLive)

In a significant breakthrough that opens the way for deep cuts in teachers’ ranks next year, Flagler County’s teacher union and the school district agreed this afternoon to sweeping and experimental changes in how school days will be scheduled—and shortened.

The agreement hinged on the district accepting revised language in teachers’ contracts on three counts. The revisions affect planning time, meeting schedules and the method by which the district offers jobs when they open. Three hours into the negotiating session, there was still no agreement on those provisions, which could jeopardize the rest, and far more sizable portion of the agreement. Just before 8:45 p.m. this evening, that agreement was sealed.

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The negotiating session has reeled from calm to tense to  apprehensive and back. The initial agreement, if it holds, would eliminate up to 40 teaching positions in the district’s four middle and high schools and shorten the school day at both levels. The district projects losing some $7.5 million out of a $100 million budget next year. It is prepared to cover $4 million of that with its $9 million reserve. But it needs to find $3.5 million in budget cuts.

That means fewer teachers, shorter and fewer classes.

The changes will have two immediate impacts. For students and parents, the school day will begin later: at 8 a.m. in high schools, a half hour later than it does today. It will also end sooner: at 2 p.m., instead of 2:15. Students are losing 45 minutes a day in instructional time, or 11 percent of their time at school. In middle school, the day will begin for students at 7:30 a.m., as it does now, but classes will dismiss at 1:30 p.m., instead of 2:15 p.m.

Teachers’ overall time at school will be shortened by 15 minutes. Their planning time, usually scheduled during the day, will take place briefly before and mostly after scheduled classes.

By shifting teachers’ planning periods to the beginning and end of the day, administrators are creating more flexibility with the time at hand. Students will not actually be losing a period: they’ll still have a seven-period day. But teachers will go from teaching six periods to teaching seven, shorter periods. That expansion will enable the district to pare down the number of teachers overall, and with it possibly narrow down the number of course offerings overall. But students will still have seven periods. The 1500 minutes per week that students will be getting in instructional time brings the district back to the state-funded, minimum for those 1500 minutes. The current, longer day is in excess of that minimum, and the district isn’t funded for it.

Eliminating 26 teachers in the district’s two high schools and 16 teachers in the two middle schools would save $2.1 million. That’s not enough to cover the $3.5 million the district is looking for, but it’s the majority of the cuts that had, by law, to be negotiated with the union. The bulk of the remaining savings entail reducing work hours and work days for all administrators (including the superintendent, principals and assistant principals) and most non-teaching staff, such as secretaries, cooks, janitors and other service employees. The service-employee union was not part of today’s negotiating session.

In order to agree to the cuts that would lead to 40 fewer teachers, the teachers union is asking for concessions of its own. The three concessions the teachers were asking for: 50 minutes of planning time generally uninterrupted by meetings or supervisory duty; a limit of one meeting per week as a norm, except when teacher and administration agree otherwise; and a change in hiring methods of coaches and other extra-curricular staff that would give qualified teachers a first crack at the job.

The union is represented by Flagler County Educators Association President Katie Hansen and Will Vargas, a service unit director with the Florida Educators Association. They were flanked by several teachers representing the various school levels.

Both Vargas and Hansen are young enough to be the district’s chief negotiator’s children–Jerry Copleand, a grizzled, unsentimental man who braids his words as he might a rope: to tighten his case rather than yield an opening. He was flanked by three principals (Chris Pryor, Paula St. Francis and Vernon Orndorff, the latter not technically a part of the bargaining unit) and two top administrators (Harriett Holiday and Denise Haymes).

Copeland spent 31 years as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent in Brevard County, before launching Educational Management Consultant Services in 1986. He negotiates on behalf of 13 counties, mixing the cordial with the prosecutorial while insisting, in tactical jabs, on the smallest details to keep his opponents off balance: when Vargas at one point explained one of his positions while looking at the rest of his team, Copeland told Vargas that he was there to bargain with him—Copeland—not the rest of his team.

“I think that we could get to where you guys need to get and save the money you need to save,” Vargas told Copeland before laying out the caveats. Those caveats, Vargas said, are necessary for two reasons: the union is entitled to reopen contract negotiations anyway. But it is also being asked to make significant concessions. The district would ease the transition by making concessions of its own.

But the negotiations got hung up on the meaning of planning—whether it could or could not include meetings—and the limit on meetings. The meeting reached its lowest point when Copeland pointedly lectured the teachers about the meaning of planning, stating at one point that “planning time is for planning. It’s not break time,” as if to suggest that teachers were misusing their planning period.

“are you suggesting that teachers don’t plan during the week?” Vargas said.

“No sir,” Copeland said. But it was too late.

Hansen was offended. “I’m going to be very honest and say that I’m quite insulted you said that,” she told the chief negotiator.

“Well then you didn’t hear what I said. Either that or you didn’t listen,” Copeland said. But he did say explicitly that planning was not for breaks, it wasn’t for leaving campus to cash a check, or to “chit-chat,” and he did say that if teachers thought they could put in only a set number of hours at work, they’d “chosen the wrong profession.”

Both sides pulled back at that point, and soon took their second caucus—a point in the negotiations when one side or the other retreats behind closed doors to consider proposals and work out counter-proposals.

That caucus was productive.

When district negotiators returned, at close to 8:30 p.m., they’d rejected the teachers’ limit on meetings to four, but agreed to a limit of six–rather than “six to eight” written in the current contract, and stressing that federal, state and district mandates are such that they dictate a number of meetings that can’t be precluded by an arbitrary limit. The district and the union also agreed to the preferential language given to teachers when hiring for extra-curriculars–language that’s, in fact, already in school district policy, but hadn’t been incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement. Now it has. The district also agreed to make every effort to ensure that teachers’ planning time was respected.

Copeland thanked the bargainers. “Your cooperation won’t go unnoticed, and we thank you very much, and I’ll be glad to shake your hand just as soon as I get up.”

Hansen was still troubled after the meeting by Copeland’s comments about teachers. “I am surprised the district is represented by someone who’d make that comment,” Hansen said. “The day I ever work seven and a quarter hours, walk in and walk out has never happened” in the years she’s worked in Flagler schools, she said.

Copeland said that the nature of bargaining is adversarial, though bargaining sessions with the union in Flagler County, while adversarial, have been cordial lately. “The discussion for me was not intended in any context whatsoever to be offensive,” Copeland said. “The comment was made to emphasize that planning is a part of the supervised workday and as such it’s subject to direct observation and evaluation as any other part of the workday.”

26 Responses for “District and Teachers’ Union Seal Crucial Agreement on Vast Cuts and Shorter Days”

  1. cynthia says:

    Why not go to a three day weekend?
    Shut everything off for three days within the schools and only transport students four days a week.
    That’s gotta save some cahs!

  2. Liz McLaughlin says:

    I don’t know how ithe district can even think about letting middle schoolers (aged 11-13) out at 130pm. It is unconscionable! It does not affect me personally, but I can guarantee that there will some major flack from parents and the community once this news is out. This just means that many more hours where children are home alone and able to wonder the streets unsupervised. If they have to shorten the day, why would they not at least have made the high schools the ones to come home at the earlier time?

    Also, the U.S. is already falling behind other countries in education – countries that have much LONGER days. And here we are making our days even shorter. This is insanity; I’m sure the best and brightest minds of Flagler County can think of somewhere else to save money.

  3. PCer says:

    Way to put students first!!! I guess my children will be taking more courses with Florida Virtual School, since they will have more time to put into them.

    Will there be any changes to the elementary school schedule?

  4. Liana G says:

    what the school district is doing is the oldest trick in the book. Stick it to the parents via the kids so that they can get the parents to pay more taxes in order for them to maintain the status quo. Dispicable! Where are those school vouchers?

  5. seaturtle33 says:

    I have several comments to make:

    1. I find it unfortunate that Copland made the statements he did about teacher planning time and his insinuation that it is misused. It only adds to the misconception that teachers “have it easy” and do not earn their pay. Quite the opposite it true, and planning is an essential part of being an effective teacher.

    2. Our schools and quality of education do not compare to other countries because the systems we use are significantly different. However, that being said, I also think that is because as a nation, we do not make education a priority. If we did, our education system would already be reformed and improved. And by “reform” I do not mean to imply more testing or other accountability programs-I mean actual reform.

    3. Finally, regarding the comment about kids getting into more trouble after school-this is a family and community issue, not a burden of the schools. Unfortunately somewhere along the line the school system has become responsible for every aspect of raising a child-healthy meals, excercise each day, sex ed, character development, etc. A teacher’s job is not to raise a child, it is to provide an educaiton, prepare students to become a contributor in society, and hopefully also instill the values needed to encourage life-long learning.

  6. Itchey says:

    I wonder how much will actually be saved when after about 1 month or less, Flagler county see’s a spike in juvenile related crime. Not every student will go out and be a criminal, but there will be a lot more unsupervised children now from 1:30 to 6:00 pm. No where to go, nothing to do……….

    There won’t be many people who step up and make sure the kids are busy, and idle hands, well we all know the story. The chances of some of these kids getting into college and becoming successful is also at risk. Too much play time.

    We should have come up with a better idea.
    The 4 day week sounds off hand like a better idea..but no matter how you look at its a 20% cut….

  7. The Truth says:

    Once again, Flagler County residents over react a decision. I don’t think this will save much money for the district and do believe other methods would have probably been a better option, however, shortening the time of the school day by 45 minutes isn’t going to be a drastic change.

    Those middle school kids who now get out at 2:15 are still sitting home alone (most anyway) for a few hours. If they are the type of kids who get themselves involved in things they shouldn’t, whether they get out at 2:15 or 1:30 isn’t going to make much of a difference in that.

    It seems everyone wants to think that everything is some conspiracy from our federal government all the way down to our schools. The truth is, the schools budget was cut drastically thanks to our wonderful governor and something had to be done. The powers that be looked at the numbers and felt this was the best thing to do. Whether it truly is will yet to be determined.

  8. SAW says:

    Ms.Mc Laughlin is correct, only one point she made was incorrect , our schools are not “falling behind” schools in other countries. I believe we are already behind, currently 15th or so down the list of all industrialized nations, and yet we spend so much more money on our system than these others do.

    One thing is sure it is not shorter hours that are needed here, it is MORE hours, maybe they need to cut into the summer months a bit more, far too much free time makes Jack a dull boy.
    Of course if this was attempted, then the teachers would mutiny.

  9. wsh302@msn says:

    does anyone know where all the gaming moneythat is spent in the state goes to?

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Regarding lottery revenue and transfers to the education trust fund:

      From OPPAGA (the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability): “For Fiscal Year 2010-11, the Florida Legislature appropriated $1.3 billion in Educational Enhancement Trust Funds (including about $142 million in revenues from slot machine activity) to benefit Florida’s schools and students. The largest portion of Educational Enhancement Trust Funds, $569 million, was appropriated to Florida’s 67 school districts. The $569 million included $319 million for school construction, $130 million for school recognition, $104 million in operating funds for hiring teachers to reduce class size, $9 million for the Florida Educational Finance Program, and $7 million for workforce development. The Legislature also appropriated $338 million to Bright Futures scholarships; $357 million to state universities and community colleges; and $35 million to student financial aid.”

      This March 2011 report by OPPAGA is the latest on how much revenue the lottery is generating, and from what.

      And here’s the latest financial audit of lottery money, from 2009.

      Keep in mind that while transfers to the education enhancement trust fund were $1.24 billion in 2009-10, that figure has either stayed flat or declined, and when inflation is taken into account, it’s significantly less than meets the eye.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Folks….let’s all come together and make something work for Flagler County Schools… is an easy way that may work….just a base idea for now:
    How about we contribute a $1.00 a month huh? that’s only $12.00 per year – let’s call it Flagler County School fund….maybe a special bank account that is mandated by the School Board and needs to be accounted for monthly…….I don’t have all the details now, but it is a start.
    Think about it folks….12 bucks a year by about 40,000 residents or so is $480K…it will help to fund if not all, at least some or even 1 project that will be gone becuase of budget cuts.

  11. Kendall says:

    Let’s do the math on how much classroom time our kids are losing:

    45 minutes per day X 180 school days per year = 135 hours per year
    That equates to 500 hours lost just in four years of high school and 1755 over 13 years of school.

    The current school day is 6 hours 45 minutes. Using that as a base, divide the 1755 lost hours by that 6.75 hours currently in the school day and our kids are losing 260 days of school with this move.

    That equates to almost 1.5 years of school that this deal took away from our children

    Thank god mine is graduating this year, but the horrid state of affairs is not lost on me.

    Check my math if you wish- but I think it’s correct.

  12. Michelle says:

    Dear SAW,
    Believe it or not, the teachers would not ‘mutiny’. We are just as concerned about this schedule as everyone else. A shorter day will NOT help our students. The classes that they enjoy – electives – are being removed – which means bored students.
    Middle school students getting out of school at 1:15 are going to be a problem. These are the kids who have been given some freedom. They are too old for a baby sitter and too young to work. What are they going to be doing? Students who are bored get in trouble. Some will try drugs, others – sex. A lot will just stay home, sit on the couch and watch TV or play on the computer. Obesity will rise. Pregnancy will rise. Vandalism will rise. And we will be even farther behind oher countries.
    This is a lose-lose situation for everybody. Quit blaming the teachers. We pay our taxes just like you do. But we also care about our youth – that’s why we went into education.

  13. Blindogg says:

    The fact that our educational budget is continually slashed while our military spending continues to skyrocket proves where the priorities of our politicians lie.
    It’s actually quite a shame.

  14. Barb says:

    There’s a real problem with your children if you think that 45 extra minutes is going to turn them to crime.

  15. Justin says:

    I blame the governor for taking 1.6 billion dollars away from education and letting his out of state friends have it for tax breaks. This didn’t happen over night, we have slowly been losing funding. It’s time we all wake up and say something about it.

  16. Liz McLaughlin says:

    Barb: If you read any of the posts above your own, you would realize it is not just the 45 minutes extra time off. The day is already too short and it is being made shorter. It is the cumulative time lost from the education of our children. Kendall and Michelle explained some of the ramifications very clearly.

  17. joanne says:

    Well, that just did it. Shorter hours for our students. How does this really save money? Our children are the future. Many families will be packing their packs. I am one of them. I am renting and will be packing my bags and moving. This county does not care about the kids. Children should be our top priority. It is no wonder why so many families have chosen charter and private schools. I can not believe more parents are not complaining. Students need electives, they need more not less. If they had gone with a 4 day week , they would have saved on electricity, bus cost. This would be unheard of where I am from, hence I am returning.

  18. wsh302@msn says:

    joanne i agree with you 100% i have two daughters who are done with college which i am still paying for and one daughter is making 10 dollars an hour withno benefits, what a great return for a 60 thousand dollar investment. i am so glad that i am not raising any more children. i have told them to consider outside this state and also outside this country. i have served 30 years as a law enforcement officer and 15 year in the military active and reserves and i just cannot see a future for the children in this country. the goverment is mmore concern iin safeguarding corporate america

  19. Thinkforyourself says:

    The truth is we elected the people who are in office. We (whether you voted for them or not) got what was elected. If you don’t like it, speak up and tell the Governor and representatives. And if you didn’t bother to vote SHAME ON YOU. It is only beginning. No party should have this much power, a balance is needed and I don’t care what the party is. God help our children!

  20. Kendall says:

    I need to make clear that I do not blame our school board for this quandry- I rest it solely at the feet of our new governor. He’s protecting BP from their responsibility for the oil spill, he’s offering breaks to his big business buddies, all on the backs of our children, their educations and therefore our future.

  21. Tom Brown says:

    Thank you for a summary that pinpoints the issues and the compromise that was reached. There are many alternatives that could be pursued before the new school year starts. One would be to raise taxes. Or legalize and tax the neighborhood casinos widely operating in our bars, posts and Internet “cafes.” Or organize more after-school enrichment programs to sub for the lost teaching time (home-schoolers might be able to lend expertise on that). Sadly, only 10 or 20 percent of the parents will have enough energy or interest to do or say anything. The rest will go along with whatever the school system decides. Maybe the most important reform needed is a recall system so the governor, state legislators and local school boards can be un-elected sooner rather than later.

  22. Johnny Tax Payer says:

    some of the comments prove what I’ve always said… many (not all) parents look at school as free babysitting first, and an education second.

  23. Liz McLaughlin says:

    A couple of more things to say: Johnny, I dare say you were not done with school and heading home at 130pm in the afternoon. For myself and those I personnally know over age 40, we did not get home til 4pm. It has nothing to do with “babysitting”. Again, Johnny, re-read Kendall’s post of lost education hours. If you break the time down per year, it equal 20 less days a year that our children are in school. This is not something our city/state/country can be proud of. We will continue to fall way behind other countries. Two of my children made it into top colleges; if they had lost that extra class each year that was used for additional courses, they would not have been as competitive or attractive to these colleges.

    I also want to add, that Mr. Copeland’s comments seriously disturb me. To put it bluntly, our district picked an A-hole as a chief negotiator. His words were indeed a complete insult and lacked class and professionalism. For those of you who have not been in our schools lately, let me give you a little ‘education’ about “planning period” as regards to our elementary schools (K-6th). The 45 minutes allocated these teachers usually winds up being only about 20-25 minutes. Why – you ask. Well, elementary planning periods fall during the students wheel class (phys ed, art, music, health, technology, etc.). The teachers have to walk all students to their wheel classes and then return to pick them up. I don’t know how many of you have been in our schools, but if you have, you know they are spread out across the size of several football fields. Lining students up, walking them across campus, walking back to your classroom and then again walking across campus to pick them up, waiting for the wheel teacher to line them up and walking back to your classroom takes up easily 10 minutes EACH WAY and sometimes more. There goes the planning period (for elementary teachers anyway). For middle school and high school teachers, they have 6 classes a day for a total of 132-150 students. Not all of the classes are on the same level so that requires individual plans. Also, imagine all the papers that this many students produce that these teachers have to grade. As you can see, a teacher’s day is not just made up of teaching time – there is much planning, grading, faculty/admin meetings, parents meetings, and so on. For all of Copeland’s so called experience, he misses the mark.

    My credentials, Johnny, Barb, et al, are that I am what may be termed a “helicopter” parent. I have been involved with Flagler County schools for 12 years and keep a sharp eye on what goes on in the classroom.

  24. FPC teacher says:

    Wow, too bad the list of proposed cuts by the union will never be published or seen by the public. They had about twenty great ideas but obviously not popular with administration. This basically means no planning for teachers that sponsor clubs, coach sports or lead music and drama programs. They have to work with kids after school. This should be interesting.
    It is amazing to me that Mr. Copeland came to negotiate our contract when apparently he hasn’t read it…we are not allowed to leave campus during planning so his comment about running out to cash a check was ignorant. I don’t know if people realize how much HS teachers have to do outside the classroom regarding forms and fundraisers – especially if you run an extracurricular program – you know the ones that your child puts on their college application?

  25. Paul Johnson says:

    I noticed that the school board members didn’t reduce thier pay/benefits. $30,000 + per year should be cut to about half that rate. I didn’t see any concessions mentioned in this article that they gave anything up.

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