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Hundreds of teachers packed the Madison School Board meeting Monday night to protest changes in their contract next year related to planning time for elementary school teachers.

Some speakers reminded the board that elementary school planning time was a key issue in the 1976 teachers strike that closed school for two weeks. Tension among teachers is already heightened because of state initiatives to curtail collective bargaining and reduce education funding.

"Compensation has been reduced, morale is low, stress is high," Lowell Elementary teacher Bob Arnold said. "Respect and support us by preserving our already inadequate planning time."

Elementary schools release students two hours early on Mondays, and teachers use the remaining time to develop lesson plans, grade papers, meet with parents and fulfill other outside-the-classroom duties.

The new teacher contract — approved hastily in March before the state's changes to collective bargaining were to take effect — allows principals to hold staff meetings during that time.

The new meetings are part of the district's broader effort to align curriculum between different grade levels, Deputy Superintendent Sue Abplanalp said.

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Howard is new president

The School Board on Monday elected James Howard as its new president.

Howard, who faced no opposition, said the top three issues facing the district in the next year are the district's budget, the achievement gap and a state-imposed plan for serving talented-and-gifted students.

Howard, an economist with the USDA Forest Service, has three children — a former and two current students in Madison schools. He replaces Maya Cole, who stepped down after one year in the position.

Howard was one of the board sponsors of a proposal to establish an all-male charter school. He acknowledged the proposal faces an uphill battle for board support given the proposed price tag, but he remains committed to it.

Board member Marj Passman was elected vice-president.

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