A proposal to expand the work day of Southwestern teachers by 45 minutes was met by concerns from faculty members at Monday’s meeting of Southwestern School Board.

“I have spoken to multiple teachers and we have some concerns,” said Brandon Frye, president of the Southwestern Classroom Teachers Association.

Superintendent Jeffrey Bates said the proposal wouldn’t change the school day length for students, but it would change the work day for teachers. He noted that teachers now work from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., which amounts to 7 hours, 15 minutes. The proposed change being considered would create a teachers schedule from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., expanding teachers’ work day by 45 minutes to 8 hours.

Bates cited three reasons for the increase noting the move would address transportation issues, provide needed supervision, and create time for professional development.

For example, Bates said Southwestern is working to better implement Emotional Learning (SEL), a tool to help students succeed academically, professionally and personally and how that correlates with students’ emotional and social intelligence. He said teachers have emphasized the importance of SEL, and noted “we’re going to be doing so much more SEL stuff that there’s going to need to be training time for that, and a lot of that is going to be computer-based, so that gives you the opportunity 30 minutes a day to do some of that” without interfering with whatever else the teacher needs to do during the day.

Board member Lacie Deputy said there are issues that need to be dealt with in terms of transportation, noting parents have complained they are late for work because they cannot drop their children off at school until 7:45 a.m. and there are also challenges for students arriving on buses.

“The school is built on a country road,” said Deputy. “It’s not convenient. One way in and one way out. The buses are having to deal with cars” and there’s no way to separate them.

Board president Rick Stockdale noted the biggest challenge with that is in the morning dropoff and arrival period.

Deputy noted schools were opening at 7:30 a.m. prior to COVID-19. “It was doing something, and then we weren’t,” she said.

However, Frye questioned what students who arrive earlier will do until the school day begins.

“Are we just going to let them sit in the gym for 15 minutes or go to the cafeteria?” Frye asked, noting that he’s not sure how wise that is with the ongoing threat of COVID-19 spread.

One concern registered by Frye is that the expanded work day detracts from the salary increases awarded to teachers following the collective bargaining agreement approved in November with the longer hours essentially erasing that raise.

“We were all excited. We got money for the first time in over 10 years, and then we were hit with, boom, let’s change your day to eight hours, where I can pretty much guarantee you that you can ask any teacher that we work eight hours a day already,” Frye said. “I will be making less than I was (before the pay increase) if you change my hours” and calculate teacher pay based on hours.

“The daily rate will be less after the raise if you make it an eight (hour) day” for teachers, Southwestern teacher Karla Thornton added.

Frye said that on Monday he arrived at 7:15 a.m. and left 4:45 p.m. and that he “can guarantee every teacher (already) works more than eight hours a day” ... “in a time that we’re worried about our kids and their mental health, and their stability, and what all is happening with them, we also have to look out for our teachers as well. All those things are connected.”

Thornton said she’s typically at school working until 4 p.m. because of “things I need to get done” and if she must be in training until 3:30 p.m., then she will have to be at school longer to finish all that she needs to get done.

Board member Jonathon Simpson said he believes they can work toward a solution, possibly with implementation of some type of comp time. “Hopefully there’s something we can come up with. My mother-in-law is a teacher. My sister-in-law is a teacher. I know they put in more hours than eight hours a day,” Simpson said, telling Frye and Thornton “I know you do put in a lot of hours, and it’s appreciated. This is just something to deal with several issues and hopefully we can come up with an answer that we’re all happy with.”

Frye said he’s also concerned with how a day ending at 3:30 p.m. might lead to interruptions in his teaching day. “I do everything in my power to be sure my doctor’s appointments, my dentist appointments, and everything is after school. If we start doing 3:30, then I can’t do that, and then I’m going to have to start taking time during the day, which I don’t like doing that because I don’t like being gone.

“I am a true believer that it’s better for the teacher to be there. I want to there and want to be the one instructing, and not just giving them something for that day,” Frye said. “I think it will increase the number of people that will be gone (during the school day) as well.”

Frye said teachers are working on other options that might not increase the length of the teacher work day. “We just feel there might be other solutions,” he said.

Simpson said there have been general discussions about options to address the needs of the school corporation, and noted nothing yet has been implemented but he’s willing to consider whatever alternatives there might be. “We’re open to whatever we can come up with, and nothing is set in stone, but changes need to be made to meet the concerns,” Simpson said.

“I hope we can come to a resolution that’s beneficial and we can all agree upon,” Simpson added, noting he “sees points both ways. The best thing is to be able to discuss it and come up to a reasonable solution” to accommodate the teachers, the board, the school, the children, and “everybody in general.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved the adoption of an amended 2022 budget due to having an incorrect levy in the public notice advertisement for the operations fund. The operations rate should have been $1.23 for a tax levy amount of $2,862,055 with an operations budget at $3,726,500. The debt service rate remained at $0.2545, setting the tax levy amount at $696,361 and the budget at $671,394. With $10,495,800 coming from the state in the education fund and $100,000 in the rainy day fund, the total 2022 budget will be 14,993,694. In adopting the amended budget, the board also voted to rescind the original budget adoption of the 2022 budget.