In addition to approving its annual budget at the September 14 meeting, the District 200 school board also appointed members Ken Knicker and Jim Vroman to serve on the teacher contract negotiation committee. Many people focus on state funding issues when talking about the budget, but the teacher contract actually has the single greatest impact on the District’s ability to balance its budget. How much do you know about it?
Former Board Member John Bomher used to say that he wanted “longer school days and more of them.” At the previous board meeting Member Ken Knicker suggested the board examine the Chicago Public Schools' effort to implement this idea. A recent article suggests that it might not solve Chicago's academic problems. But I’m willing to give it a try: IF we start with the teachers.
What’s the length of your work week? Increasing District 200’s current 28 hour 45 minute required teacher work week would provide significant additional resources for tutoring and other student assistance, and potentially save the district millions of dollars. I propose a “35-35” program – 35 weeks of instructional time at 35 hours a week. That is still only 1,225 hours per year.
At this point I expect to hear outrage about the amount of time teachers already spend outside the classroom. Many dedicated teachers do so. However, much of that time is compensated. The District spends about $3 million a year on stipends, which are extra pay for assignments ranging from coaching sports, to monitoring lunch rooms, to standing outside making sure kids get on the bus. Surely some of these duties could be added to the contract work week at no extra cost. And if all teachers are already spending extra class preparation time anyway (beyond the daily preparation time they’re already guaranteed, in the current contract, as part of the school day), then surely the union would have no objection to adding it to the contract?
Before you respond, please read the contract, available on the District web site (article 5 deals with instructional time). Right now, high school teachers are required to be at school from 7:05 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. That’s a 31 hour 15 minute work week. However, deduct from that a guaranteed duty free lunch period and you get a 28 hour, 45 minute work week. Of that, teachers are guaranteed at least four hours and 10 minutes of duty free planning and preparation time. Teachers cannot be required to teach more than 5 classes a day without extra pay. The maximum student contact time, per the contract, is 21 hours and 15 minutes per week, and the remaining time can be used for tutoring.
A teacher’s school year is 181 days, roughly 36 weeks. However, they also get 15 paid sick days – three full weeks. Who is sick one day out of every 12 work days? Let’s have the contract track reality, not Excess sick days accumulate without limit and get cashed in on retirement, also boosting teacher’s pensions. All these provisions are spelled out in detail in the contract.
When you add it all up, teachers are required to work less than 1,000 hours a year. Even if they spend 20% more time than contractually required, they’d still only be working about 1200 hours. If we’re really concerned about kids learning, let’s spend more time teaching them. The 35-35 plan would do this, and save taxpayer money.