May 15, 2014 in City

Extended Spokane school days put on hold for year

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane youngsters will get a one-year reprieve from an extended school day.

Union negotiations, scheduling dynamics and a fast-approaching end to the school year will delay longer school days for at least a year.

A district task force working on the issue told school board members on Wednesday that they recommend waiting until the 2015-16 school year to start.

“We can do a better job later,” district spokesman Kevin Morrison said.

But at a school board meeting Wednesday night, board member Rocky Treppiedi called the delay “intolerable.”

“I cannot fathom that after 20 meetings, after all these professionals have looked over this, that this issue is not resolved,” said Treppiedi, who attempted to force administrators to lengthen the school day in time for fall. His proposal, however, wasn’t supported by any other board member.

The extended school day proposal – first pitched in mid-March – would add 30 minutes to the district’s elementary school day and six minutes to middle school and high school days.

School board members are pushing for the extension because the district’s school day, especially for elementary students, lags behind most districts in the state. A longer day also would solve middle school bus scheduling problems.

“We have achievement problems, especially at our elementary schools,” board member Bob Douthitt said.

School officials say waiting another year will allow for a smoother transition.

“We can get the public and all the parts much better aligned by working through it in much better detail than it has been,” said task force member Tennille Jeffries-Simmons, a human resources officer for the district. “Negotiations are dynamic. It’s an evolving process. As we explored the process on the table, more questions surfaced that we didn’t anticipate.”

For example, the district’s change in its middle school schedule would make athletic competition with other districts almost impossible, Jefferies-Simmons said.

The change in the middle school schedule is needed because students are waiting up to 40 minutes for their buses.

Extending the school day is important to the school board.

Washington already has one of the shorter elementary school days in the United States, and the school day in Spokane Public Schools is shorter than most others statewide. Additionally, state law expected to take hold within the next two years would require K-7 students to spend at least 1,000 hours in school each year, and students in grades 8-12 to spend 1,080 hours in school.

Spokane Public Schools elementary school students currently spend 962 hours in school, said Linda McDermott, chief financial officer for the district and also a task force member. The 30 minute midday break is not included in our calculation.

“It’s about instructional minutes for students. We are not trying to increase instruction by counting recess time,” McDermott said. “That’s why we are taking this approach.”

So, the school day for K-6 students will have to be lengthened either way.

This is a sticking point for primary teachers.

“Why do we have to do something that’s not a law yet,” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association president. Besides, “our elementary teachers are not interested in working another 30 minutes and not get paid.”

The union continues to negotiate with the district. That’s one reason Rose thinks the delay is good.

“We’re not done yet,” she said, adding, “If we, as a school district, are going to do something, we need to do it well, not rush into it. Our kindergarten teachers are really concerned. That’s a long day for kindergartners.”


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