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U-46 Board vote adopts 2016-17 school calendar

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved the 2016-17 school year calendar by a 6-1 vote and were presented with the abatement plan for property taxpayers at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 25.
  Jeanette Ward was the lone no vote on the calendar as she opposed the early start date. Classes will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 17, just two days after the original Aug. 15 proposal.
  “I will be voting no for the reason that it starts earlier I think than most people would prefer, and I’d like to see it moved back to a later start,” Ward said.
  The district did a survey on the original proposal which saw 73 percent of the 935 respondents opposing the original start date. The last survey, which covered calendars for two consecutive school years, showed that 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents were opposed to an earlier start date which also was met by a minor adjustment in the start to the year.
  During discussion before the vote, Ward also asked why certain religious holidays are noted on the calendar but not others. U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the district’s Clergy Advisory Council suggested it.
  Sanders said the holidays noted on the calendar are on actual school days while those not noted occur when classes are not in session.
  “One of the things that they noted was that we should be noting some of the other religious holidays that are actual school days for our students, like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur… and note that some students may not be able to participate on some of those holidays if they are of a particular faith,” Sanders said.
  At the previous board meeting, Sanders suggested the board set guidelines and do away with the survey as he was dismissive of the results saying “by and large, you typically hear from the people who have concerns about the calendar and not those that fully support it.”
  Ward wants that survey to continue as she said: “I know that you had requested before to come up with a policy that gives guidelines and then go from there, but I think it’s useful to gain feedback from the community every year, and I’d like to respectfully request that we continue to do that.”
  During a board discussion after the vote, Traci Ellis did not favor continuing the survey and said: “I would be in favor of approving some guidelines for them to consider and leaving them to create the calendar.”
  Ellis later said that “whether this district, or the board, specifically solicits your input or not the public should always, always, always be aware that they can communicate with us and provide input and feel free to and it is welcomed.”
  On the responses, Ellis said the feedback was often “hyper-specific” pertaining to family vacations, but board member Phil Costello said that while having guidelines was useful it is still wise to listen to the feedback and take that into account.
  Costello said: “I guess I don’t see any problem with getting annual input. I like the longer term guidance. I think that’s a prudent move just to give people a sense of a year from now, etc.”
  Board member Cody Holt said: “I do support continuing to hear the public’s input on the calendar. I think it’s important. I know that there could be certain trends that change in the future, and I think we should be open to it. I hear both sides of the argument. I do feel a little bit more inclined to support listening to the public.”
  Board member Sue Kerr said she likes “the idea of guidelines” specifically to set some consistency on certain aspects like Thanksgiving week, but also wanted the feedback. The approved calendar has students in class on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, a change from having the whole week off this school year.
  “I think it would be useful to have guidelines in that respect, but I have no problem with having input on the calendar that’s coming up under those guidelines,” Kerr said.
  Sanders said the hope is to propose calendars for two years at a time, something board member Veronica Noland agreed with.
  Noland said: “I don’t think it hurts to get input every year, but I also think for planning purposes, you know, we get the input for the upcoming two years and then that provides that little bit of stability.”
  Donna Smith, the board’s president, said she was concerned that the survey is given after “the work has already been done by the committee and everyone else. I guess what I would suggest is maybe that administration, if you can maybe make some notes, that maybe we can get some input on guidelines…”
  Sanders said: “We will put together a process with creating the guidelines, the process for getting input from our communities and our teachers and other staff members and bring that back into the board before we actually launch the next round of this and then that hopefully will set the stage for at least two years of the calendar that we can approve.”
  Also approved that evening, all by unanimous vote, were $8.1 million in itemized bills as well as $43,242 for battery backup equipment from SEPS, Inc. and $72,900 for a two-year contract with Gartner, Inc. to help advise on the district’s technology plan.
  The board also heard the administration’s abatement plan which will be voted on Monday, Feb. 1. The plan is to pay part of the debt service of an $18.3 million school bond from 1999.
  Jeff King, chief Operations officer, said the district will abate back $2,068,459 which is meant to soften property tax increases. The district would transfer money from the education fund to the bond and interest fund under the abatement.
  Kerr asked: “How did you get that figure?”
  King responded: “We took the CPI (Consumer Price Index) and figured from there what we thought the increase would be for the second half of this year, first half of next year.”
  Sanders noted that “local property taxpayers could still potentially see changes in their property tax bills due to many other factors outside of U-46’s control, but the attempt is to try to alleviate the burden on our local taxpayers.”



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