Austin ISD may end planning period for middle and high school teachers
Middle and high school teachers in the Austin School District are concerned that district leaders will eliminate one of two scheduling periods built into their schedules and increase their workload.
District leaders have acknowledged conversations about possible daily schedule changes to address financial constraints and to pay for proposed salary increases for teachers and hourly workers, but have yet to share details.
“We are considering changing our daily schedules and are currently engaging with our managers on this,” Superintendent Stephanie S. Elizalde said in a statement provided by the district Tuesday.
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Teachers warn that adding extra class time to their teaching schedule would leave them with less time to complete other work requirements, such as grading, family outreach, lesson planning, learning, etc. assessing student needs and ensuring accommodations for special education students. They also say it could lead to more burnout and resignations among teachers already fatigued by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All of those extra things that teachers do throughout the day, on top of planning and grading, that help ensure students have the best possible experience with their education, that’s going to take that away from us. “, David DeLeon, an English language arts teacher at Burnet Middle School in North Austin, said the American statesman.
“And we’re going to have to try to make up for that somehow, which will mean more after-school or weekend work, which teachers do a lot already,” he added. .
Under Texas law, classroom teachers must be given at least 450 minutes during each two-week period for “instructional preparation, including parent-teacher conferences, assessment of student work, and planning. “.
This means teachers in the classroom should be given at least 45 minutes of planning time each day and “cannot be required to participate in any other activity” during this time, according to the law.
In the Austin school district, high schools schedule students for eight lesson periods, either all in one day or on a rotating basis, and teachers typically teach six of those eight lesson periods, said Ken Zarifis, president. of Austin Education, District. employees’ union, which confirmed the district’s plans.
The district has long given high school teachers another planning period in addition to state-required time due to requirements and greater flexibility in middle and high school schedules, Zarifis said. During this second planning period, district leaders typically assign teachers to attend team meetings to assess student performance and needs, he said.
Amid budget constraints and calls from primary teachers for more planning time, district leaders had previously launched a plan to eliminate the block schedule and one of eight class periods in secondary schools.
The proposal was unpopular among students, parents and teachers, who feared it would also mean cuts to student electives and teaching jobs. District leaders suspended the plan in December, but are now considering requiring high school teachers to take additional class time, according to Education Austin officials.
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Megan Barrett, a special education teacher at Dobie Middle School in northeast Austin, said she couldn’t imagine following her work by implementing special education student housing and education programs. individualized within the framework of the proposed teaching schedule.
“We’re not going to be able to give them the accommodations they need,” she said. “We just won’t have time.”
Other financing options?
Zarifis estimates that a teaching schedule with one less planning period would increase teachers’ workload by about 20% and fears it could lead to job cuts, even though district leaders have said that ‘they were focusing on staff reductions through attrition and reduction of central office staff.
He said the move could also prevent the school district from asking teachers to volunteer to fill in for teaching during the additional planning period, as many school districts are currently doing due to staffing shortages in the midst of the latest wave of COVID-19.
Instead, Education Austin representatives and teachers are asking district leaders to address budget constraints in other ways, such as using federal COVID-19 relief funds or district reserves, and the sale of district real estate.
“The last place the district should go to balance its budget is the classroom,” Zarifis said at a news conference Tuesday.
Elizalde told school board members last week that the district had already accounted for relief funds and was still facing a $62 million shortfall due to reduced state funding related to the decline. registrations and attendance. District leaders said selling district-only properties would produce one-time revenue and limit future revenue-generating opportunities.
District officials also said they could not draw more from district reserves because school board policy requires the district to maintain reserves at 20% of district operating expenses to maintain a good bond rating. and afford construction projects.
Zarifis said the school board could vote to lower that threshold to 15%, at least temporarily.
Austin School Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said in a statement that “all ideas are welcome” and that the board’s policy on reserves “is a best practice that allows us to meet the cash flow needs of urgency, as recently demonstrated during the pandemic and winter storm Uri”.
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Rodriguez added that strong reserves allow the district to maintain a good bond rating that saves it “millions in interest costs” and pays employees year-round without having to borrow money.
“There are pros and cons, mostly cons, to seven out of eight (class periods) in terms of impacting campuses, and there are only cons to not creating a balanced budget,” Elizalde told the school board last week.
Even though schedule changes make teacher salary increases possible, DeLeon said he wouldn’t consider it a raise.
“Which really comes down to a pay cut because teachers will be working more throughout the day,” he said.
Officials from several school districts contacted by the statesman said high school teachers typically get two non-teaching class periods to plan time, including the Round Rock and Dallas school districts. In the Eanes District, middle and high school teachers for basic academic classes get two class periods, as do most high school teachers and middle school teachers for basic classes in the Lake Travis District. and some math teachers in the Hays district.