The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board primed to vote on new calendar
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 will vote on a revised 2016-17 school year calendar, as well as over $100,000 in expenditures from two proposals at its upcoming meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.
After seeking public feedback through an online survey, the administration made a few changes from its original proposal and the revised calendar version was presented on Monday, Jan. 11. There are 184 days scheduled for teachers and 174 for students.
However, the change to the most controversial portion was slight as 73 percent of the 935 votes were opposed to the original proposed start date of Monday, Aug. 15. Despite the negative feedback, the district offered a move up of only two days to Aug. 17 with teachers reporting on Aug. 12. Pre-school starts Aug. 24 under the revised proposal.
“One of the nice things with this year’s calendar, with this revised calendar, is we can still have semester finals done before the end of first semester so that kids can go for winter break having taken all of their finals,” said U-46 CEO Tony Sanders.
The final day of class would be May 26 with graduation the following day, and Sanders said ending school close to graduation would help with a loss in General State Aid due to seniors not showing up to class after finals. He also said he’s heard “only positive feedback” on the revisions he announced in his weekly message to staff, but that was only publicly posted on the U-46 website the same day as the meeting.
New board member Jeanette Ward has disagreed with the earlier start date, and still feels Aug. 15 is too early and said “a lot of the feedback that I’ve heard is that it’s still too early to start that early in August.”
The district has started earlier the last three years, in part as U-46 is looking at year-round school, but the public has consistently opposed it on the survey. The last vote came two years ago for this year’s and the 2014-15 school years, and 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents opposed the earlier start but were given just a minor adjustment of a couple days by the administration.
Ward asked: “Is there any possibility of moving the start date to the Monday, or even the Wednesday, the following week and maybe shortening winter or Christmas break because that first week off in January, you know, a lot of parents are working?”
Melanie Meidel, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, said: “Anything’s possible. The calendar, I think looking at a severe change would have to be a transition of time. I’m representing the voices of many. Depending on where we want to go as an organization, there’s surrounding school districts right now in our area that do start in August.”
Meidel added: “At this time looking at next year, right now this is where we’re at.”
The survey showed that 67 percent of 933 voters opposed the original proposed end of the school year, 57 percent of 928 voters opposed the 10 dates selected for teacher institute or professional development and 574 of 926 voters opposed the Thanksgiving break dates. Of the 922 voters, 61 percent supported the spring break proposal, and a plurality of 925 respondents supported the winter break proposal at 46 percent.
The week of March 27 was selected for spring break in both the original and revised proposals, but winter break was changed from Dec. 19 through Jan. 2 being off to now Dec. 22 through Jan. 6 being off. Sanders said in his weekly message that “this year’s calendar was especially difficult given that Christmas and New Years are on the weekend.”
The week of Thanksgiving both students and teachers are off starting the Wednesday of that week in the revision. This school year, students had the entire week of Thanksgiving off which was a change from previous years.
New board member Sue Kerr asked about the Thanksgiving week and if the district can be consistent on having either the full week or a half week off.
“I think the common desire is to settle on one or the other just so people can predict it,” Kerr said.
Meidel said “if we take that full week in Thanksgiving, that does impact as a domino effect for us” in balancing both semesters.
As public feedback has generally been in dissent since the district started seeking it over the past few years with the survey, Sanders suggested not seeking feedback in the future but rather have the board create guidelines. He also dismissed the survey results stating: “By and large, you typically hear from the people who have concerns about the calendar and not those that fully support it.”
Also proposed at the meeting was $43,242 for battery backup equipment from SEPS, Inc. It would be used at the Kenyon Woods backup data center and would be paid out of the education fund.
A two-year contract with Gartner, Inc. for $72,900, to be paid for out of the education fund, was also presented. Gartner, Inc. has worked with U-46 for five years to help advise on the district’s technology plan.
Kerr asked if the $72,900 was annual or for the full two years which Rickey Sparks, director of business services, said it was for the full two years.
Ward noted: “I wanted, for the benefit of the public, just to point out that this service saved the district up to $750,000 based on their advice about… our technology plan.”