Pasco County’s teacher union has lodged a complaint with the Florida Public Employee Relations Commission over a dispute that involves teacher planning time.
The United School Employees of Pasco’s complaint alleges that teachers are spending so much time in meetings with their Professional Learning Communities that it is usurping time intended for individual planning.
The district contends that the time spent in the PLC meetings is planning time, but the union believes that time should be categorized as professional development, union president Lynne Webbe said.
During the PLC meetings, the teachers are being given work and assignments that are not relevant to what’s currently happening in their classrooms, Webbe said. Instead, they are focusing on strategies for preparing students for future requirements.
Teachers are feeling “very, very uptight,” Webbe said. “They’re feeling that they are shortchanging their students because they don’t have time.”
The complaint filed with PERC notes that the union has hosted meetings between teachers and school board representatives, including Superintendent Kurt Browning, to talk about “teachers’ frustrations with the amount of work and time commitment for the new PLC meetings.”
Before lodging the complaint, the union asked the school district to limit PLC team meetings to 40 minutes per week.
The union claims that the district is using time intended for planning for professional development, so it has asked PERC to declare that the district has committed an unfair labor practice.
“I think there is a solution, if the district is willing to sit down and work on it,” Webbe said.
Browning has a different take on the issue.
“I think they’re wrong. We’ve never, never, not once, said that professional learning communities, PLCs, were professional development,” Browning said.
“It’s collaborative planning,” Browning said, adding that the district’s track record demonstrates that it needs to change the way it educates students if it wants to improve its performance.
The PLCs are intended to allow teachers to work together to improve student outcomes.
“In an elementary school, it may be more appropriate to do it by grade level. You may have the third-grade team,” Browning said.
The team will be talking about how they’re going to teach reading, mathematics and language arts, he said. At the high school and middle school levels, the teams might be organized by subject matter.
“The inherent purpose of the PLC was so that they could plan for better, more effective classroom instruction. That’s it,” Browning said. “These PLCs are teacher-driven. You can go to one elementary school and see a PLC work one way, and you can go to another elementary school and see a PLC work totally differently.
“If the union is hearing that teachers are taking homework home because of their PLC, then that must be a decision their PLC has made,” Browning said.
Browning recently met with the principals from schools on the eastern and central portions of the county. During that meeting, Browning said he reminded them “that they need to guard the PLC time as planning time and not professional development time, if by chance that was happening.”
“This is a year of transition,” he said. “If we find situations, that we actually find a school that is using them for professional development and not planning, then shame on us — we need to fix that.”
Published April 9, 2014