Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
Local high school teachers have a reason to celebrate.
On Friday, Albuquerque Public Schools and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation agreed to maintain the current high school schedule next year. Teachers will continue to have five classes a day, rather than six.
“We were really, really relieved today,” said Tanya Kuhnee, a West Mesa High School English teacher and ATF high school vice president.
District administrators had considered changing the “7/5” high school schedule to a “7/6” schedule to save roughly $3 million – a move the union strongly opposed.
Earlier this month, the APS Board of Education approved a scenario that restored the six-class schedule if the district were hit with a 2 percent budget reduction during the Legislature’s upcoming special session. The scenario was meant to outline options the APS finance department could consider as they tried to create the fiscal year 2018 budget.
APS administrators say they are still waiting for final budget numbers from the state, but they are projecting a 2 percent cut to K-12 – $12.4 million for APS. In addition, higher expenses coupled with lower enrollment, will add up to another $13.7 million for a total loss of $26.1 million.
Under the cost-saving schedule outlined in the board-approved scenario, high school teachers would have retained one class period for preparation time but lost the period now designated for departmental planning groups called Professional Learning Communities – the 7/6 format.
But on Friday, ATF president Ellen Bernstein sent out a memo to teachers stating that the administration had agreed to the current 7/5 schedule for next year.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta confirmed that the 7/6 schedule is now off the table.
“We have been saying all along that principals have to make the schedules at the schools, so we had to say what we were going to do one way or the other,” Armenta said.
With less than a month left in the academic year, time was getting tight: Teachers needed to know what classes to prepare for before they left on summer break, Kuhnee said.
Bernstein called the uncertainty incredibly difficult.
“It’s so stressful if you don’t have the information you need to plan for the following year,” she said. “This schedule is good news for high school teachers.”
The 7/6 format was put in place for the 2015-2016 academic year, generating union protests.
Sean Thomas, an Eldorado High School social studies teacher and ATF executive vice president, said the heavier classload was causing burnout.
“It killed morale and teachers were exhausted,” he told the Journal on Friday. “If people could walk away, they walked away from the profession.”
The complaints spurred the district and the union to collaborate to form a high school schedule committee made up of parents, students, teachers and administrators from every high school that recommended going beck to the 7/5 schedule. Union members also advocated for the change during several board meetings, and 7/5 schedule was approved for the current year.
APS board of education member Peggy Muller-Aragón was the only opponent. She cited cost and also controversially questioned whether teachers who wanted the lighter format were cut out for the profession.
She and other opponents have also said the 7/5 schedule is not fair to middle and elementary teachers who do not receive nearly as much prep and planning time each day.
A former elementary school teacher, Muller-Aragón makes an argument for the 7/6 schedule again in an op-ed published today.
But Bernstein said the district’s action Friday showed that it listens to parents, teachers, students and principals.
Kuhnee agreed that trust has been restored.
During the past few weeks, teachers have been tense as administrators debated the high school schedule change and a plan to ax middle school sports, Kuhnee said.
“It was starting to create contention between the levels,” she added. “Middle school principals were saying why are these teachers fighting for high school schedules when we are cutting middle school sports.”
APS backed off of the middle school sports cut on Wednesday, and Kuhnee said teachers feel like their concerns have been heard.
While the district is still considering larger class sizes and reduced employee work days, Kuhnee called the high school schedule change a bright spot.
“It will be some good publicity instead of bad,” she said.