Union makes lighter workload pitch

Friday, Feb. 22, 2008

Teachers are overworked.

That was not a shocker for the Board of Education of Charles County to hear Tuesday. What might have been a little more eye-opening was that the local teachers union asked that schools be released early one day a week to cope with the problem.

‘‘This would allow time for teachers to collaborate with each other, work with the instructional team on new strategies, update the Parents@school system, communicate or meet with parents, mentor less senior teachers, take advantage of staff development offerings and work on individual education plans,” said Bill Fisher, president of the Education Association of Charles County.

If implemented, Fisher told the school board during its monthly meeting that it could save the school system money because it wouldn’t need to hire additional staff to keep pace with the workload.

State law mandates that students go to school for 180 days, for a total of 1,080 hours. Charles County currently has students in school for 90 hours more than is required by law.

Fisher, who represents 1,800 county teachers, said reducing the 90-hour surplus in classroom time through early releases would give teachers more time for planning.

‘‘As you know, teacher workload is one of the main reasons people leave the profession,” Fisher told the school board.

This request came from a Jan. 24 EACC roundtable discussion.

Donald M. Wade, chairman of the school board, said after the meeting that he will take the suggestions into consideration and discuss them with the school board and staff.

‘‘As we go through the workload you will find much of it is attached to the federal laws and guidelines. And we have to do extra to make sure teachers are helping students meet those guidelines,” Wade said. ‘‘Teachers always need more planning time and preparation time. From the time the school day starts there is no time to waste; the school house is really busy all day.”

And when it comes to providing more planning time for the teachers, Wade said it’s not something the school board will impose on the superintendent and the instructional staff.

But, Wade said if the superintendent comes to the board with a feasible solution to provide more planning time, he is willing to consider the possibility.

Elementary school teachers are given four hours a week for planning purposes during the student school day. Middle and high school teachers are given about 45 minutes a day for planning purposes, varying slightly by school.

In addition, there are four, two-hour early dismissal days built into the school calendar for planning time for teachers. At the end of each quarter, students are released two hours early to give teachers time to fill out report cards. Also, at the end of the second and fourth quarters, school is out for a half day and teachers use the time for their discretion.

Other suggestions Fisher made to the school board Tuesday to reduce teacher workload include eliminating county-mandated testing for special needs students, offering teachers a ‘‘bookshelf” of lesson plans, reducing county mandated paperwork for special needs students, hiring more speech pathologists and cutting down on how much paperwork teachers are required to file at their schools.