The Woodward News

April 10, 2013

Time issues sideline school calendar

Rowynn Ricks
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — A normally routine annual item garnered quite a bit of discussion during Monday's monthly Woodward Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

After talking over the issue for several minutes, school board members tabled approving the 2013-2014 school calendar.  They delayed the vote in order to provide Superintendent Tim Merchant additional time to meet with representatives of the Woodward Education Association, which is the local teachers union, to work out some timing issues regarding the length of the school day.

Merchant explained that he was looking to provide some consistency in the length of school days across the district by moving all campuses to a 400-minute day, except the Early Childhood Center which would be a 390-minute day.  Those times refer to instructional minutes for the students and therefore do not include lunch periods.

The shift would also allow the district to cut the total number of days in the school year from 180 to just 175 days, while still including various professional development and site days.

However, the superintendent said that the teachers have a contract that states they cannot be made to work longer than 7 hours and 30 minutes each day.

The 400-minutes of instructional time equates to 6 hours and 40 minutes per day. Plus teachers are required to arrive 15 minutes before students and stay 15 minutes after students leave, which brings their total time to 7 hours and 10 minutes without including the lunch period.

But Merchant said the teachers believe their lunch period, which ranges from 20 minutes for elementary teachers to 41 minutes at the high school, should be included toward their 7.5 hour work day.  If teachers' lunch periods are included, he said the district will have to adjust the total minutes of instructional time per school day at some locations, such as the high school.

Until the school administrators and teachers union can come to an agreement on whether lunch time should be included toward total work time, the school board didn't want to vote on a school calendar.

In other action Monday, the school board met in an executive session for over an hour to discuss hiring persons to fill 2 positions for the remaining school year.

After returning to open session, the board approved hiring Desiree Ramirez as a Boomer Kids Club worker and Patricia Pribble as a custodian for Woodward Middle School.

The school board also received an update from Superintendent Merchant regarding thoughts from the district's Long Range Planning Committee.

Merchant said the committee has identified 3 main areas where the district needs improvement:

• technology - with recommended upgrades ranging from replacing aging servers to going to a "one-to-one set-up," where each student would be provided with his/her own computer for use, whether it's an iPad, tablet or laptop;

• transportation - with equipment needs including 2-3 additional round buses, another activity bus, and another SUV type vehicle in addition to setting up a "rotation basis for replacing vehicles;" and

• security - with recommendations for additional cameras, more fencing at some campuses, locks on inside doors, and creating a double buzzer system for each campus like the one utilized at the ECC.

"Another issue at the top of the list is overcrowding," Merchant said, noting there are issues at both the Early Childhood Center and Woodward Middle School.

He said there is even discussion of bringing the 1st grade out of the ECC and the 6th grade out of the middle school.  But determining how that might be achieved has created a "hump" for the planning committee.

"We hit a hump at our last meeting, primarily over the discussion and decision about do we or do we not go to grade level centers," Merchant said.  "We're having conversations with those school sites and teachers who would be affected and getting their opinion now."

The superintendent admitted that their are both pros and cons to moving to a grade level-based system, which involves placing all of one grade level in the same building.  For example, all 1st and 2nd grades would be placed in one school, all 3rd and 4th grades in another.

However, whether the district moves to that type of system, continues with the neighborhood-based school system or looks at building new facilities, such as an intermediate center for 5th and 6th grades, Merchant said that there will be considerable construction involved.  Financing that construction will require the issuance of bonds.

Merchant told the board that "hopefully we can have a Long Range Planning subcommittee come to the May board meeting and make recommendations" as to which direction it feels would be the best for the future of the district.