Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A decision by the San Antonio Independent School District board to give campus principals more authority and flexibility in setting staff work hours has become a source of controversy with educators on the eve of a new school year.
The school board voted 6-1 on Wednesday to amend the district’s work schedule policy, allowing the superintendent and principals to determine daily time schedules for all employees. Trustee James Howard cast the lone dissenting vote.
The policy revision neither affects nor changes school instructional hours or bell schedules. Principals plan to begin meeting with their faculty and staff members early next week to discuss the needs of their schools and collaborate on plans. Classes in SAISD begin Aug. 13.
But representatives of a local teachers association have said that changing the scheduling policy right before the start of the 2018-2019 school year creates turmoil and uncertainty for SAISD teachers.
Shelley Potter, president of San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel, argued that the policy change could hinder some teachers who rely on child care for their own children and others who are pursuing career development.
“We believe this decision violates teachers’ contracts because the district is making a material change to teachers working conditions after teachers were already locked into contracts,” she said, noting that the alliance plans to file a class-action grievance against the district.
The alliance also criticized Superintendent Pedro Martinez, saying his push for the schedule change further undermines an already tenuous professional relationship between Martinez and district employees.
Three SAISD principals spoke to media members about the policy revision Thursday at James Madison Elementary School on the West Side.
Lianna Cano, principal of Madison Elementary, said the schedule change will help with supervision of students who may arrive on campus long before the school day starts and stay long after the final bell rings.
“It’s not uncommon for parents to drop off their children extremely early on campus,” Cano said. “These students unfortunately are unsupervised.”
Cano said teachers and support staff on each SAISD campus do their best to supervise these students, but traffic and other unforeseen circumstances may delay people picking up or dropping off their children.
SAISD officials had been careful to ensure that providing flexibility in teachers’ work schedules to help supervise students would not extend teachers’ total work hours on campus on a daily or weekly basis, Cano said.
“This is not about people already working day and night working longer hours,” said Moises Ortiz, principal of Rhodes Middle School. “This is about better managing our talent pool to provide better customer service to our parents and take better care of our students.”
Burbank High School Principal Miguel Elizondo said the policy change permits him and his four fellow campus administrators to get some help from educators and support staff in ensuring safety for 1,100 to 1,300 students before and after school daily.
“In my opinion, if we could bring in staff a little early, they’ll be in a position to provide that support,” he said.
The principals said the policy change brings SAISD more in line with other local school districts.
Later Thursday afternoon, about 20 representatives of the San Antonio Alliance and a few supportive community members gathered outside the SAISD central office to protest the policy change.
Potter said that no procedure yet exists to guide when and how campus principals will tweak their employees’ class day schedules. This, she said, fosters fear and uncertainty in employees’ minds.
“The superintendent said at [Wednesday’s] board meeting that there will be [a procedure] ‘by the end of the year,’” Potter said. “In the meantime, it appears to be the wild, wild West. Some of you have principals who will exercise reasonableness. Others of you have principals who may abuse this policy and your time.”
During consultations among principals, district administrators, and employees earlier this year, teachers and union representatives made recommendations that could yield some workday flexibility but without giving principals or the superintendent the authority to adjust schedules, Potter said.
Additionally, Potter said Martinez and SAISD trustees rushed the policy change without giving serious consideration to teachers’ feedback.
She cited district layoffs and the district’s decision to hand operations of Stewart Elementary School to a charter school operator as examples of what she called Martinez’s lack of leadership.
“After stressful and demoralizing layoffs in the spring and no pay increase whatsoever, the superintendent and board now add longer work hours with zero protections,” she said.
DeZavala Elementary School teacher David Garza attended the protest. He said he’s lucky that his son attends the same campus.
“But I’ve got colleagues who do have children who don’t attend the same school; some have kids who go to schools in other districts,” Garza said. “Other districts, they’re opening up at 7:15 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. That’s the earliest someone is going to be able to drop off their child. How can they make it to drop their child off and get to their school on time when they need to?”