LAND O’ LAKES — Fourth- and fifth-graders at three Pasco County elementary schools will be in class an extra 50 minutes each day this coming academic year as the school district tries to comply with a new state mandate.
The schools — Lacoochee Elementary, Cox Elementary in Dade City and Gulfside Elementary in Holiday — were among Florida’s 300 lowest-performing schools for FCAT 2.0 reading scores.
A new state law requires additional reading-instruction time for students at those 300 schools. Pasco County school district officials hadn’t anticipated having any schools on the list, so worked quickly this summer to get a plan in place in time for the start of school Aug. 18.
“This caught us by surprise,” Superintendent Kurt Browning told the school board this week.
The district also needed clarification from the state because the legislation said the schools must provide an extra hour of instruction “beyond the normal school day.” As it turned out, that didn’t mean the district needed to extend the school day a full hour.
In Florida, students attend school 180 days. Students in kindergarten through third grade must have a minimum of 720 hours of instruction a year, and fourth and fifth-graders need a minimum of 900 hours.
Adding 180 hours for the year — one hour a day — raises the K-3 students to 900 hours and the fourth- and fifth-graders to 1,080 hours. Students in elementary schools in Pasco already have more than 900 hours of instruction, so no additional time is necessary to meet the requirement for K-3 students. The extra reading time will be incorporated into the regular day.
An extra 50 minutes, though, was needed to bring the fourth and fifth grades into compliance.
As a result, Lacoochee, Cox and Gulfside will have two dismissal times in 2014-15.
Lacoochee and Gulfside will start their days at 9:40 a.m. The kindergarten through third-grade students will end the day at 3:50 p.m., the same as this past school year. The fourth- and fifth-graders must stick around until 4:40 p.m.
Cox will start its day at 8:40 a.m. The younger students will dismiss at 2:50 p.m., while the fourth- and fifth-graders will continue until 3:40 p.m.
The state mandate did not come with any funding. That created budgeting challenges, but those appear to be worked out, Browning said.
The district will use money from a state digital-classroom appropriation to fund the cost of technology and instructional materials needed for the three schools, he said. General revenue funds will pay for the extra time teachers work and for the additional school bus runs needed to account for two dismissal times.
Browning said the district is negotiating with United School Employees of Pasco about the amount of supplemental pay the teachers will receive.
The state Legislature mandated the extra reading time for all students at the 300 lowest-performing schools, with the exception of children who scored at the highest level — 5 — on the reading exam. The level 5 students can choose to participate, though.
For Lacoochee Elementary, the mandate comes at a time when the school is showing improvement after being a D school three years in a row. This year, Lacoochee improved to a C after the district put together an improvement plan. In reading, even though proficiency levels kept them in the bottom 300, the school still made significant gains, moving up from where it was last year, Assistant Superintendent Amelia Van Name Larson said.
“You don’t do that without really hard work and the right work,” she said.