Questions raised about fewer instructional days in Lafayette

A committee that includes representatives of teacher and bus driver groups will meet this week to consider the Lafayette Parish School System’s 2013-14 school calendar after complaints were raised by teachers and drivers about 10 lost instructional days.

The currently proposed calendar adds instructional minutes to the school day to free up days for teacher professional development — which school district officials have said is necessary to prepare teachers for educational reforms. Currently, teacher training is held either after school or on classroom days that require a teacher to pay for a substitute, which also results in a loss of quality instruction for students, school officials have said.

The Lafayette Parish School Board was set to approve the proposed calendar at its meeting Wednesday, however, after hearing from teachers and bus drivers, it voted 7-1 to defer a decision and allow the calendar committee more time to work out teacher and driver issues. Board member Kermit Bouillion cast the sole vote against deferring action on the calendar while board member Tehmi Chassion was not in the board room to vote.

The proposed calendar revamp has 170 instructional days while this year there were 180 instructional days.

Additional minutes were added to the day, but classes will actually be shortened to build in a 30-minute block in the school day — called a “skinny” — for an instructional intervention time for students who fall behind academically. Those students who don’t need instructional intervention would take an enrichment class in either character development, success skills or another course based on the principal’s preference, Superintendent Pat Cooper told board members Wednesday.

Some teachers and a representative of the local bus drivers association spoke out against the proposed calendar at the board’s meeting.

“My concern is I have 10 less days with my students ... We can crunch minutes until we’re blue in the face,” said Joel Armentor, a Lafayette High School history teacher.

Board member Tommy Angelle asked Armentor whether he’d prefer a return to 180 instructional days.

Armentor said it may depend on whether the professional development is a “one-year thing or an annual thing.”

Teachers could deal with a year of the change, he said.

“I’ll do what I have to do,” Armentor said. “I know if it we have to have that skinny, I’m going to see my kids less. We’re not going to get to the Reagans and the Clintons and the Bushes and the Bushes again ... because we won’t have time.

“Ideally, I’d say find the extra money to pay the teachers for extra days,” Armentor said.

At least three school principals spoke in favor of the proposed calendar during Wednesday’s meeting.

There is a “significant need” for designated professional development days within the school calendar due to state mandates and changes, said Joe Craig, principal of Comeaux High School.

The proposed calendar provides a more effective way to deliver teacher training and also will save money on substitutes, he said.

The calendar change equates to about 12 more working days for teachers “that we are probably not getting paid for,” said Karen Martin, a teacher and president of the Lafayette Parish chapter of the Louisiana Association of Educators. “When we look at (it), we probably already do 12 days of work that we don’t get paid for. To add time where we’re required to be at school and not be paid for it, that is the question that many people have.”

She requested that the committee and district officials consider “how equitable it is for our workforce to follow this.”

Calvin Latiolais, a contract bus driver for Lafayette Parish School System, told the board that drivers would be losing operational pay for the days students aren’t in session.

“A lot of them aren’t going to be able to afford to run the buses,” Latiolais said.

He reminded the board that they already face a shortage of bus drivers. Recently, the district began recruitment of substitute bus drivers, which leads to full-time employment with the system.

District Chief Financial Officer Billy Guidry confirmed that contract drivers would lose days of operational pay, but their operational costs would also be reduced “for not actually driving those days.”

Cooper said the committee will need to work quickly because he’d like the board to reconsider the proposed calendar at its April 17 meeting.