Some Wichita teachers are upset over what they say is a lack of communication, flexibility and fairness regarding an end-of-semester work day on Dec. 22.
Several teachers plan to address school board members Monday to voice their frustrations and are rallying others to attend as well, according to a Facebook event titled “Teacher Workday Unity Action.”
“We would like all teachers to be treated with some respect here,” said Larry Smith, a history and government teacher at East High School and a member of the United Teachers of Wichita executive board.
“We’re not asking for more money or less time. We just want teachers to have some flexibility.”
At issue is a non-teaching duty day scheduled for Dec. 22, the Monday after students leave for winter break. During such days, teachers normally finish up grading, submit grades to administrators and plan for the next semester.
According to the current teacher contract, teachers are provided a full day of “uninterrupted time” at the end of each grading period, but they may leave work after a half-day – three and a half hours – if they complete their grade reports early.
This year, because of how Christmas falls on the calendar and other issues, that half-day work day is on a Monday. After that, teachers and students are off until Jan. 5.
Smith said union officials and others grumbled about that element of the calendar when it was approved by the school board in February. But they figured principals would be able to work with teachers, allowing them to work later Friday, Dec. 19, or over the weekend if they wanted to begin their winter break early.
Many middle and high school principals did, said union spokeswoman Deena Burnett.
“What we understand is that secondary principals have given their staff an opportunity to work those 3.5 hours in a flexible way, whereas … elementary principals are requiring their staff to work on Dec. 22,” Burnett said.
Superintendent John Allison said he approved requests by high school principals earlier this semester to allow teachers some flexibility with when they worked the required 3.5 hours. Those schools arranged for a principal or assistant principal to work later Dec. 19 or to come in Dec. 20 to sign off on grades and other paperwork for teachers leaving early, he said.
But “that doesn’t work, logistically, at elementaries,” because most elementary schools have only one administrator, Allison said.
The Wichita district has 55 elementary schools, 16 middle schools, 11 high schools and three K-8s. There are about 4,000 teachers in the district.
“We tried to provide flexibility where it was possible,” Allison said Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that that wasn’t perceived or received by some in the positive manner in which it was intended.”
Burnett said the situation is “absolutely a morale issue,” and that all teachers should have the option to work late on Dec. 19 in order to take advantage of another weekend for travel or other plans.
“It’s just time that you get to spend with your own kids or your own family, and if you can start a little bit earlier, that’s great,” she said.
The number of hours teachers work each year is negotiated as part of the teacher contract. But the district calendar – which lays out school start and end dates, professional development days, non-teaching duty days and holiday breaks – is not negotiated.
The school calendar is developed by a committee made up primarily of district administrators, with representatives from the teachers union and service employees’ union. UTW president Randy Mousely sat on the committee this year.
This year’s teacher contract, approved by the school board in August, included a 2 percent salary increase and the elimination of a Jan. 2 inservice day – with no loss of pay – so that employees will work 189 days instead of 190.
Allison said setting the school calendar is always a balancing act. District leaders “think first about what’s best for students,” he said, but also must consider teachers’ wishes.
Classified employees, meanwhile, get paid only when they work, so longer breaks mean less income for them, Allison said.
“I started to hear last week from folks unhappy with the way this (Dec. 22 work day) was being implemented,” he said. “As with everything, I plan to be very methodical and listen to all the voices and consider all the information before deciding how to move forward.”
Smith, the East High teacher, said teachers are most upset now about what he says is a lack of communication and clarity from district administration.
“For secondary schools, since they’d already made that decision a long time ago and been told it was OK, a lot of teachers already made plans to be out of town,” Smith said. “Now we’re hearing there’s been this directive: ‘Sorry, nobody gets to do it. You all show up on Monday.’
“Our main message is: ‘Hey guys, this has not been communicated or handled well,’ ” he said.