STAMFORD — High school teachers will be asked to teach an additional class period next year, according to administrators, in an effort to equalize prep time and improve efficiency across the district. But Board of Education members questioned the plan, citing concerns about heavy workloads, cost and the effect on work done outside the classroom.
Ryan Fealey, the district’s finance director, told the board’s Labor Committee on Tuesday that since the adoption of the controversial 4×4 block schedule at Westhill and Stamford high schools last year, teachers typically taught two of the four 88-minute class periods on “A” days and three of the four periods on “B” days, with the additional time reserved for prep and other duties.
But Fealey said this structure leaves teachers at the high school with an average of 2.15 hours of non-instructional time during the day, while elementary school and middle school teachers had “significantly less” — about 45 to 50 minutes per day. According to Fealey, this difference in non-teaching time isn’t allowed under the current teacher’s union contract.
Fealey said the district plans to ask high school teachers next year to teach three out of four periods on both days.
Stamford Education Association President John Corcoran told CT Examiner that some high school teachers already teach an additional period, with 110 educators covering 19 unfilled full-time positions. But he noted the current arrangement was voluntary and that those teachers were paid extra.. The idea of a mandatory sixth class, he said, would not be well-received.
“This will not go over well with the teachers,” he said.
Kate Tobin, a Westhill High School math teacher and SEA officer, said she had been offered to take on an extra class for 20 percent more pay each year, but declined. With coaching and advising duties, she said, she didn’t have time to take on a sixth class.
Tobin also said no one had spoken to the high school teachers about taking on an additional class.
“I think that if you want me to do 20 percent more work, you are going to have to give me 20 percent more pay,” she said,
Board members were also unconvinced.
Labor Committee Chair Andy George said he understood the importance of following the union contract, which “doesn’t distinguish between workload,” but that he was “sympathetic” to the teachers because of the amount of grading and prep work they undertake.
“It makes me think that, at some point, do we consider the possible differences between what a teacher at the high school experiences, what a teacher at the middle school experiences, and what a teacher at the elementary school experiences?” said George, adding this may be an issue to address during union contract negotiations next summer.
Board member Becky Hamman noted that Stamford’s Academy of Information Technology and Engineering — known as AITE — had been operating on a block schedule for years, and that the difference in non-teaching time had never been brought up as a problem.
“It just surprises me that all of a sudden it’s an issue, and it’s an efficiency issue when [AITE] was the top 20th in the state,” Hamman said.
Fealey said Josh Esses, a committee member who was not present at the meeting, had specifically asked the district to look at the block schedule and whether it was “efficient.”
Esses confirmed to CT Examiner that he asked the administration to examine the amount of free time high school teachers had.
“After the switch to A/B [block schedule], I heard from community members — including teachers — that our high school teachers had much more free time than before,” Esses said.
During the meeting, Hamman also noted there was a vast difference in the number of students that teachers at different levels interacted with. While an elementary school teacher might have 30 students, a high school teacher had 120 to 150 students, which she said was particularly challenging for humanities teachers.
Lucero said the issue was about fairness for teachers at all grade levels.
“I do think it’s important that we don’t put down one level in order to heist up another level,” she said. “I think across the board, all of our teachers and staff work very hard, and it’s hard to determine what is the right thing to do here. And we want to make sure that we are not putting down our elementary teachers. If you have 20 to 25 kids all day long, how do you say that one is working harder than another?”
But Tobin said she had a larger number of students and much more grading than her elementary school colleagues.
“I have more students and more to grade, so how is that inequity?” she asked.
Corcoran said he believed giving teachers an additional class was not about creating equity, but rather a financial decision.
“If you’re going to go that route, give the elementary school teacher more time. We’ve been asking for years to give the elementary teachers more time — that they were overworked and weren’t given enough time,” he said.
Hamman said she’s concerned the district will lose teachers over the change, particularly if other districts with block schedules are giving their teachers more non-instructional time. Corcoran agreed.
“We will have teachers jump ship,” he told CT Examiner. “We’ll have teachers go to other districts. Even if it’s money that they’re given, myself and many don’t want the money. We’d rather have the time to do what we need to do.”
Hamman also said the additional classes could cost the district as much as $8.8 million, based on the average salary of a high school teacher and the number of educators in the district.
Kathleen Steinberg, of the district’s Public Affairs Office, told CT Examiner that the district did not expect any additional cost associated with the schedule change and was unclear how Hamman arrived at her figure.
Board member Fritz Chery asked what teachers were using the non-instructional time for, and whether duties outside of class — for example, team meetings to analyze student performance data and creating plans to improve teaching — would suffer.
Lucero said the new schedule would need to include any additional duties that the high school principals believed were necessary. And while the Board of Education does not have to vote on the change, she noted, the teachers union has the right to collectively bargain over it.
“The goal is to attempt to find a schedule that is efficient and effective for everyone. We don’t want anyone to be overly taxed, but we also want to make sure that … we are all working efficiently,” she said.
Corcoran said once the union had a better understanding of what the district was asking for, they would begin the necessary bargaining procedures.
“We’re not going to be giving in, we’re not rolling over and we’re going to demand certain things to be done,” he said.
Administrators said they also plan to implement schedule changes at the middle schools and elementary schools to ensure uniformity across the district and equalize instructional time in each subject.