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Union files complaint against Pasco district over teacher planning time

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LAND O’ LAKES — A dispute over the use of teacher planning time has prompted United School Employees of Pasco to file a complaint against the school district with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

Teachers spend so much time meeting with their “professional learning communities,” or PLC’s, that little time is left to plan for their day-to-day classroom activities, said Lynne Webb, president of the union.

“What’s happening is they are being instructed (in the meetings) on what’s involved with Common Core,” Webb said. “It is so pervasive that they are not having enough time to plan for the academics at hand. It’s like, ‘We are just looking to the future. Don’t worry about what happens today.’ ”

Superintendent Kurt Browning established the PLC’s in 2013 as a way to promote more collaboration among teaching teams at a school. Teachers meet with their PLC’s each week, but just what those meetings represent is the rub.

The union maintains that they are professional development meetings, which under the union’s contract with the district are not supposed to exceed 40 minutes a week. Webb said teachers are receiving instruction and being given assignments during the meetings.

Browning, though, said the district has never said PLC meetings are for professional development. From the district’s standpoint, the PLC meetings are planning meetings with the planning happening as a team.

The superintendent said teachers need to collaborate when they plan.

“They need to talk to each other about instructional practices and students,” Browning said. “They can’t do that if they are just hunkered down in their classrooms.”

Browning said the feedback he receives from teachers indicates PLC’s work for them.

“As I travel the district — and I am in schools a lot — I am amazed at the number of teachers and administrators who have stopped me and said, ‘This is great. These are working. We are getting a lot done,’ ” Browning said. “It’s hard work, but they are seeing the benefit and the reward of their efforts.”

Webb, though, said the union has heard complaints from teachers who view the PLC meetings much differently. They complain they don’t have time to prepare their classrooms before students arrive, and they end up doing their lesson planning at home because “they have a moral imperative for the students who are going to show up the next day,” Webb said.

The situation has been ongoing, she said. The union has discussed the problem with the district since September, and brought Browning and Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson in to hear concerns from elementary and secondary teachers, she said.

They were responsive to some of the concerns, Webb said, but “the reality remains that teachers are spending almost the majority of their planning time working on something they are going to have to implement in the future versus something that helps them implement the current curriculum.”

Webb told the school board at a meeting in November that the professional learning communities were creating “an overwhelming amount of stress” for teachers. She suggested then that the union might have to take legal steps if something wasn’t done.

Now that the complaint is filed, the next step would be a hearing before a hearing officer assigned by the Public Employees Relations Commission. Webb said it’s possible the union and the district could resolve their differences before a hearing happens.

The wait for such a hearing could take months.

“That’s why you don’t file something like this lightly,” Webb said. “We tried to exhaust every avenue before doing this.”

Webb said she believes the district’s intentions with PLC’s are positive, but district officials need to realize they can’t turn 30 years of practice “on a dime and you can’t do it without negotiations.”

Browning had a different view on that as well.

“You’re telling me you want to keep doing things the same way as the last 30 years and expect different results?” he said. “You’re not going to get different results.”

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