Lawrence school board members deserve our thanks. Probably no group in the community will have more difficult and controversial discussions over the next year as the board will on budget cuts, possible school closings and consolidations.
But board members really ought to add one more difficult discussion to their list. Now is the time to seriously consider the value of the district’s policy on teacher collaboration time, which includes releasing elementary and junior high students 90 minutes early each Wednesday.
Budget concerns are evident throughout the school district. Those concerns should prompt district leaders to evaluate this program, because — make no mistake — collaboration time comes at a price.
What that price is, we’re unsure. Many residents don’t know much about the program, and that’s a problem. The policy was established in the late 1990s as part of negotiations between the school district and its teachers. The idea of early-release was never properly explained to the public.
School board members ought to fix that by answering several questions:
• Are teachers being productive during collaboration time? As one teacher who supports the program recently wrote in a letter to the Journal-World, some teachers probably use the time better than others. What percentage of teachers are using the time properly?
• Could the district save money by eliminating the early-release program? Students are required to attend school a certain number of hours per year. How many extra days are added to the school calendar every year because students are released early every Wednesday? In Eudora, district administrators added minutes onto their district school day and were able to cut 10 days from the district’s calendar. Cutting those days saved the district about $100,000 in transportation, food services, utilities and other costs. Eudora has only one junior high and one elementary school. Lawrence has 15 elementary schools and four junior highs.
• Do the benefits of collaboration time outweigh the costs the program creates for parents? It is a simple fact that many parents have to pay for day care on early-release Wednesdays or else lose hours at work. The economic times are much different than they were in the late 1990s when this program began. Are parents being asked to pay too much for this program?
• Could collaboration time be reduced or perhaps done at a different time of day? Perhaps teachers could have collaboration time once per month. If it is needed on a weekly basis, perhaps teachers could collaborate in the afternoons following the normal dismissal of school.
Any changes to the district’s collaboration time are likely to produce concerns from the Lawrence teachers union. Making a change could be difficult. But that’s just a sign of the times. Nothing has come easy lately, but school board members owe it to the community to make sure this issue is on the table as they chart a future course for the district.