The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 Board discusses new, earlier start date
By Seth Hancock
The public has again said it wants a later start date to school, but the Board of Education in School District U-46 appears to again ignore the public after a discussion on the proposed 2017-18 school year calendar on Monday, Jan. 23.
The district has started classes earlier in August the past four school years starting under former Superintendent Jose Torres who alluded to, at the time, wanting to look into yearlong school. Ever since, public surveys have shown widespread disapproval to the earlier start.
The first survey, which covered two school years, showed 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents opposed to the earlier date, and last year 73 percent of the 935 respondents opposed this school year’s start date. Both times the district administration made minor adjustments of two days, moving from a Monday to the Wednesday of the earlier week for the first day of classes.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders had the survey done before any proposed calendar was made, and this time the administration listened as it asked what was the preferred start date among three choices: Aug. 16, Aug. 23 or Aug. 30.
“We’ve developed a calendar that fit with the feedback we got from the survey,” said Sanders who said Aug. 23 was the preferred start date. The proposal also aligned with survey results on length of Thanksgiving and winter breaks.
The survey showed that 46 percent of 4,715 total respondents supported Aug. 23, and both Aug. 16 and Aug. 30 received 27 percent of support.
The survey also showed 53 percent supporting three days for Thanksgiving break as opposed to two or five, and 54 percent supported an 11-day winter break.
The proposal brought before the board that evening had school starting on Aug. 23 and ending on June 1 with graduation on May 26. There are 173 total days for students, 184 for teachers.
However, that proposal may be changed as a majority of board members supported the earlier date because of when high school finals would be taken for the first semester. Finals have been held before the winter break the last four years, but they would have to be taken after the break with either the Aug. 23 or Aug. 30 dates.
During public comments, South Elgin junior Ethan Culver said having finals after break could have a “detrimental effect.” Eric Loera, the student advisor to the board, agreed.
“For myself and many of my peers, the schedule has worked out excellently,” Culver said. “We were free to relax and take a break from school for the two-week break.”
Board member Sue Kerr said she would like the district to “think a little bit out of the box” for “something creative” that would allow the later start date as well as having finals before winter break. She later said “I hesitate to ignore the fact that 73 percent of our respondents didn’t want the Aug. 16 start date,” and, along with board members Cody Holt and Jeanette Ward, all three supported the Aug. 23 proposal. Ward was the only no vote last year as she has consistently opposed an early start date.
Ward asked “could teachers have the latitude to decide when finals are?”
Sanders said “I’m not sure we could make that shift that quickly” due to the district’s size in terms of doing “something creative” and that teachers “technically do now” have the latitude for when finals are given. He also said the administration has reviewed data of the district holding finals before and after winter break and “it’s not made a significant impact over these past few years academically.”
“[Students are] going to have that stress whether it’s before winter break or after winter break,” Sanders said.
Melanie Meidel, who heads human resources, said the proposal also took into account “the semester long course work” in balancing as close to an equal number of school days in each semester.
Despite the evidence showing no real impact on taking finals before or after break and the majority of the public for the third time saying they want a later start date, board members Phil Costello, Traci Ellis, Veronica Noland and Donna Smith all supported the earlier start date.
Smith, in fact, later said she “didn’t have the time to look at” the survey results.
“You also didn’t ask when would you like for finals to be administered, so I might have picked Aug. 23 not realizing the impact that’s going to have on” finals Ellis said.
Both Ellis and Smith claimed the “original reason” for the earlier start date was to have finals before winter break, but that was after Sanders earlier said “I’m not saying that we did that for that reason.”
Ellis said “we did a lot of work to get finals before winter break” and “when we surveyed before, we asked that question specifically if I remember correctly,” but Sanders said he “would have to go back and look at” those surveys.
On memory, Ellis stated “the community was overwhelmingly in favor of, at least the high school, finishing the semester before winter break” for finals and Smith said “it has always been that they supported first semester finals before Christmas,” but The Examiner has reviewed those surveys and cannot find that question. The Examiner has been unable to find any survey asking that.
Ward, a parent of students in the district, said she took the survey and said “I think I remember … it said that finals would be” on a certain date depending on what dates you chose. Sanders and Meidel both said “it was noted.”
“I would be against changing that start date because the majority of those surveyed wanted that start date of Aug. 23,” Ward said. “We can perhaps guess on what the majority feels about the finals, but in absence of the data we don’t have I think it’s better to keep the start date as Aug. 23.”
Holt said he’s heard from parents “who are naturally for a later start date,” and he supported the Aug. 23 start, but Costello said: “I guess I’d have to support the earlier start date. It sounds like there’s a lot of weight for finals before Christmas break.”
The board is expected to vote on a calendar at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 6. It also will vote on School Improvement Plans as well as the resolution supporting the district abating back funds on the property tax levy.
Jeff King, chief operations officer, said $18.3 million would be abated into the bond and interest payment portion of the levy and would cover the “second half of 2016, all of 2017 and the first half of 2018.”
Holt said: “I will always vote, whenever I have the chance, to return money to the taxpayers and I appreciate that we’re doing that. In the future, I would like to see us when we’re doing our budgeting process budget so we can freeze property taxes as opposed to the abating a portion of the tax levy back to the taxpayers.”