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March 10. 2013 8:55PM

175-day school year eyed as Manchester teachers voice opposition

MANCHESTER - School board members are scheduled to discuss a plan tonight to shorten the school year by extending the school day for city students. The proposal has drawn the ire of the city's teachers union, which in a letter to school officials threatens to "seek recourse through any and all legal avenues" if the changes are adopted.

Union officials say they aren't opposed to the extra class time, just the fact the board wants to make the changes without negotiating first. The union says the plan violates provisions in its contract concerning changes in work conditions. Officials are expected to meet with school administrators for the first contract negotiating sessions Tuesday.

"It doesn't leave a good taste in my mouth," said Benjamin Dick, president of the Manchester Education Association. "It's not the way you want to start things off."

Tonight's Board of School Committee meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The teacher contract expires at the end of this school year. If no agreement is reached on the new contract, the current one remains in effect.

The district's Coordination Committee voted last month to approve a 175-day calendar, a change from the current 180 days. The change, which would go into effect for the 2013-2014 school year, was drawn up by district officials after they realized they could achieve the state-mandated minimum of 990 hours of class time for middle and high schools and end school about a week earlier than with the 180-day calendar.

The plan also includes the required 945 instructional hours for elementary students, and the 60 hours that need to be added for missed days due to inclement weather or emergencies.

Under the proposal, the additional class time is achieved by cutting back on the lunch period in the city's high schools, from 50 to about 25 minutes. Lunch periods at the elementary and middle school levels are already approximately 25 minutes.

Mayor Ted Gatsas backs the change.

"Parents say their kids don't have enough education time," he said. "This would give them more of that."

Dick said the proposed changes add to the work load of teachers.

"To accommodate the extra work hour, part of the lunch period is taken away and work time is increased," he said.

He added: "It's not the idea of more hours that we are opposed to," said Dick. "We have discussed this with our members, and alerted them that the topic will likely come during negotiations. It's the idea that these changes can be unilaterally imposed, without negotiating, when they are a negotiable item that we take issue with."

In a letter to Manchester Superintendent of Schools Tom Brennan, dated Feb. 21, Dick writes: "This action would increase the amount of daily time teachers must work and would violate the collective bargaining agreement and state law. MEA contends that this action constitutes an Unfair Labor Practice as a serious repudiation of the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement and is a grievable offense."

Gatsas said Sunday night if needed, he would offer an option where high school staff would work 180 days, while those at the lower levels work 175.

"If the union is unwilling to make that change, we can have separate schedules for high school teachers, and elementary and junior high teachers," said Gatsas.

The proposed calendar would also make Dec. 23 a vacation day. For the 2013-2014 year, the last day of school would be June 12 for students and June 13 for staff.

pfeely@unionleader.com

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