Teachers reject new calendar

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ST. CROIX - Educators across the territory continue to express dissatisfaction with the Education Department's new calendar for next school year.

Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory announced this past week that to ensure instructional hours are met and that teachers are not short-changed for their vacation and professional development days during the implementation of a new school calendar, the department plans to add two weeks of vacation time into the school year, according to the commissioner.

She said the shortened summer break will be made up during the Christmas and Carnival breaks and will comply with the new mandate to start school two weeks earlier and meet the required 1,080 hours of instructional time that is mandated by the Virgin Islands Code, according to Frett-Gregory.

The law to change the school calendar first was passed by the 29th Legislature and mandates the fall semester start two weeks earlier - around Aug. 11 - so that it will end before the Christmas break.

St. Croix Federation of Teachers President Rosa Soto-Thomas said the unions and department have not come to an amicable agreement primarily because the teachers are not interested in any additional vacation days, but they are interested in being compensated for the time they will lose. "Our employees are 10-month employees but their are paid over the course of the full year so it is already factored in and more vacation time is not what we are looking for," she said. "We are looking for payment for those additional 10 days we are giving up."

Soto-Thomas said the collective bargaining agreement that the union employees are working under entitles them for their summer pay even before the end of the school year and functioning outside of that will cause problem for the union. She said the way the payments would be structured, her members would be taxed heavily.

She said funds need to be identified to pay the teachers what they are owed, and she is appealing to senators to either identify funds that can be used or delay the implementation of the new calendar until the funding is assured.

She said the union is scheduled for wage opener discussions next month, which would be separate and apart from discussions for payment associated with the calendar change.

"We've been spinning wheels for a long time," she said. "Eventually you have to jump off, and I think that time is now."

While the final details are not worked out and talks are still ongoing with union officials, Frett-Gregory said the school year will start Aug. 11, and the first semester will end Dec. 23, just before the Christmas break. The school year will end June 5.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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