NEW: Stonington teachers want decision on April vacation reconsidered

Stonington — The teachers' union is asking the Board of Education to rescind its decision to eliminate three days from the upcoming April vacation.

In a letter to board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald, Stonington Education Association President Gretchen Noonan said teachers would like the board to keep graduation on June 8 and instead have seniors attend school for three days the week after graduation. This would give them the opportunity to attend the 180 days of school, which is the minimum that towns must provide under state law.

High School Principal Stephen Murphy has opposed having seniors attend school on June 11, 12, and 13, saying it would create havoc with graduation practice, exams and regular classroom instruction for other students. He said if school could not end on June 8, he would rather see graduation moved to June 15.

But Noonan wrote to MacDonald that her members are sure "the administration and high school teachers and students can plan events that celebrate this important milestone," a reference to the graduation several night earlier.

Over the weekend, MacDonald said her fellow board members have not told her they feel they made a mistake eliminating April 11, 12 and 13 from the vacation and should change their decision. But she said anything is possible the next time the board meets.

That will occur Tuesday night, when the board holds an executive session at 7 p.m. at the School Administration Building to discuss another aspect of Noonan's letter, a request that the board and union enter "impact bargaining" to negotiate issues affecting teachers surrounding the change in the school calendar.

Allowing more than one or two teachers per school to take two personal days off at the same time violates the contract between the teachers' and the school system. In addition, the contract does not specify that teachers are paid for personal days as it does for other types of leave. Masterjoseph said personal days have been paid when approved and MacDonald said when a contract does not specifically prohibit something then it is typically allowed.

Teachers are also required by the contract to be involved in 182 days of teaching but with board change to the calendar, they will only teach 180 because school would end for all students on June 8, a half day. Some residents have asked if teachers, who work a total of 187 days, would be paid for those two days.

As of this afternoon, according to preliminary district figures, 62 of the district's 260 teachers or certified staff will be absent on April 11, 59 on April 12 and 52 on April 13.  With substitutes costing $80 per day, the school system could be looking at a bill of almost $14,000. A few of those positions, though, would not have to be filled by substitutes.

Between 80 and 100 percent of the substitutes needed have been secured for all the schools except the high school, where about 73 percent have been secured.

Before entering the negotiations, she said that teachers are asking the school board to revisit its decision and have students attend school on June 11, 12 and 13.

Noonan said that having school on the three days after graduation would provide instructional continuity for students in grades kindergarten to 11, save money on substitutes, send "a message of shared sacrifice and dedication to the community and our students" and acknowledges the board can reconsider a decision based on new information.

Noonan also criticized the board for not having a process in which all those interested could express their ideas, suggestions and concerns before it made a decision.

Two weeks ago, the board voted to keep graduation on June 8 and eliminate April 11, 12 and 13 from the upcoming vacation to make up for the three days that school was closed after Tropical Storm Irene. The board made the decision after seniors and their parents urged the board not to change the date of graduation because it would jeopardize the ability of family and friends to attend the ceremony. It would also endanger plans for the all-night graduation party. Organizers said they would likely lose their $3,000 deposit for the party if the date was changed.

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