ARLINGTON -- The Arlington school board approved a proposal Thursday night to return to a more teacher-friendly block schedule system for high schools next year -- with a cap on the cost of the transition.
High schools have operated this year under a leaner block schedule imposed during a budget-cutting frenzy last spring sparked by steep reductions in state funding.
The schedule eliminated a teacher conference period every other day and replaced it with an additional course to teach.
That allowed for the elimination of 78 teaching positions by attrition, a savings of $4.3 million.
To go back to last year's schedule -- overwhelmingly favored by teachers -- administrators proposed returning those jobs to the budget for 2012-13.
However, some board members were troubled by the cost and the possibility that the budget figures could fluctuate.
"We don't know what the numbers are going to be," Trustee Aaron Reich said. "There are too many uncertainties."
The Legislature could institute more budget cuts in 2013.
Also, employees have not received a pay raise in three years, a situation Reich said couldn't continue much longer.
Trustees voted 3-2 against the original proposal. Then, after taking care of other agenda business, they returned to the schedule issue.
Trustee Jamie Sullins made a motion to limit the restaffing to 60 teachers, which would cost about $1 million less.
Superintendent Jerry McCullough said before the vote that he couldn't guarantee that the transition could be completely carried out with 60 teachers.
"But we'd bring it back and give you the reasons why we can't live within that cap," he said.
The trustees agreed to that condition and approved the proposal 4-1, with Reich opposed.
Several teachers at the meeting said they were frustrated after the first vote but found hope in the second.
"A conference period is needed every single day for every single teacher," said Larry Shaw, executive director of the United Educators Association.
"I'm not sure I agree with how the board got there, but they got there."
The cost-saving schedule implemented this year generated waves of complaints in e-mails and phone calls and at school board meetings from teachers who said that with the extra work and reduced conference time, they were struggling to keep up with grading, parent conferences and other duties.