16 Palm Beach County elementary schools to at extra hour to school day

The Palm Beach County School District is scrambling to prepare 16 of its elementary schools to tack on a state-mandated extra hour to their school day, after test scores showed the schools had among Florida's worst reading performances.

The cost of adding on that extra hour: $7 million to $8 million, the district is estimating.

The state Legislature passed a law this year requiring the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools in the state in terms of reading FCAT performance to provide an additional hour, beyond the normal school day, of intensive reading instruction to all of its students every day of the regular school year.

Palm Beach County, being the fifth-largest school district in Florida, had anticipated having some schools on the lowest-100 list, and worked to set aside about $5 million in anticipation of that.

But when school grades were released earlier this month, the district learned it had 16 of its schools on that list — more than any other school district in the state.

"We had estimated anywhere from four to 10," said Mike Burke, the district's chief financial officer.

It's not clear yet where the extra $2 million or $3 million will come from to cover the expected costs.

With just over three weeks left until the start of school on Aug. 20, the district is still trying to finalize bus routes, decide on school schedules and negotiate with the county's teachers union about how to pay employees for that extra hour of work.

"This is a top priority," Burke said. "We need to get this finalized to instruct schools accordingly."

The confusion over the additional hour is already worrying teachers, some of whom said they had no idea until this week that their school was going to have an extended school day.

"This is another law that our legislature really doesn't think through, doesn't realize we have a bargaining agreement, doesn't realize that people really have lives," said Lynn Cavall, executive director for the Classroom Teachers Association.

Cavall said that these changes are "huge to have to implement in 30 days," and said a number of teachers have called her to discuss concerns about how the scheduling change will affect family or other obligations.

District spokesman Nat Harrington said the district informed all the schools involved the Monday after the list of 100 schools was released. He said other meetings have been held with principals and with support staff — such as transportation, afterschool and food service — to discuss implications of the schedule change.

The district is also drafting letters for both parents and teachers at the affected schools to explain the changes.

The list of 100 was calculated based on the percentage of students in the school reading at proficient levels, and on the percentage making learning gains in reading.

The 16 elementary schools on the list are:

Belle Glade, Glade View and Pioneer Park in Belle Glade; Washington, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and Lincoln in Riviera Beach; Pahokee in Pahokee ; West Riviera in suburban Riviera Beach; Galaxy in Delray Beach; Grove Park in Palm Beach Gardens; Lake Park in Lake Park; South Grade and Barton in Lake Worth; and Northmore , Belvedere and Pleasant City in West Palm Beach.

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