The Examiner U-46 News Feed
Despite input, split vote approves U-46 calendar
By Seth Hancock
The Board of Education in School District U-46 has again ignored the majority of the public on the school calendar after it voted 4-3 for an Aug. 16 start date to the 2017-18 school year at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 6.
The administration did a survey, which received 4,715 total respondents, asking for the preferred start date among three choices, 46 percent wanting Aug. 23 and 27 percent for both the Aug. 16 and Aug. 30 start dates meaning 73 percent wanted a later start date than the one approved. The last two times the district did a survey on the calendar, 90 percent of nearly 1,700 respondents wanted a later start date and 73 percent of the 935 respondents did as well, both of which were not supported by the board.
The initial calendar proposal from the administration for the 2017-18 school year was to follow the wishes of the public for the Aug. 23 start date, but the four board members who ultimately approved the Aug. 16 date (Phil Costello, Traci Ellis, Veronica Noland, Donna Smith), did so mostly due to allowing high school finals to be taken before winter break.
Costello told The Examiner last week that he may change to the Aug. 23 date, but after the vote he said that after speaking to people “they wanted it to be consistent.”
During the discussion, Costello said he didn’t see the “impact on education or finances,” but wanted consistency.
“I do understand that the majority of respondents said that, but the fact is we’ve been using one calendar for a long time, and that would be my preference,” Costello said.
The approved calendar for 2017-18 does align to the current calendar, but “for a long time” is subject to debate as the district has instituted an earlier start date for only four years.
Ellis, Noland and Smith all found reasons for not following the survey results saying that it didn’t ask if the public wanted high school finals before or after winter break. That came despite board member Jeanette Ward, also a parent who took the survey, and the administration saying that there was indication on the survey of how each start date would affect finals.
Noland said she “appreciates so much that we did a survey” but then claimed “parents may not have understood” the impact on finals, and Ellis said “I cannot ignore the fact that the survey, in my estimation, was not clear.” Noland also said “I’m a firm believer in the year round calendar,” which was the initial reason given by then Superintendent Jose Torres for seeking an earlier start.
Ward, who supported the Aug. 23 start, said those board members were “over thinking” things in trying to determine what the public wanted in regards to finals.
“I think last time we had a lot of discussion about what we think the community thought when they took the survey, but I think the plain results of the survey were that they wanted an (Aug. 23) start date,” Ward said.
Board member Sue Kerr said: “If we were a high school district, I would have no problems supporting the start date of the 16th, but we are a unit district. I do appreciate the fact that people with young children may want to have more of August off.”
Board member Cody Holt said: “Our parents and community members, teachers and educators, they answered our survey that we sent out, and I’m not going to brush aside that survey.”
Ellis, Noland and Smith also appeared to ignore evidence and misremember previous discussions as they claimed the “academic benefits” outweigh the will of the public. According to U-46 CEO Tony Sanders, the evidence of “academic benefits” for holding finals before break is not there, as he said it, has “not made a significant impact over these past few years academically” according to the district’s own data over the past four years of the earlier start date.
Both Ellis and Noland said there were plenty of discussions last year around holding finals before break, Ellis saying “I also remember the very rich discussion we had around this a couple years ago when we went to this calendar.”
The Examiner reviewed its reporting on last year’s discussion and found that there was little, if any, discussion regarding finals, and the main reason for the earlier start date given last year was to align with neighboring school districts.
Costello asked before the vote on the 2017-18 school year how neighboring district’s have their calendars, and Sanders said it’s mixed with some early and some late starts.
Smith said that she’s “in no way saying that the survey’s not important” but “surveys are one piece of decisions” and “I’m really am uncomfortable of moving back so quickly because of one survey.”
Smith then appeared to get defensive when Ward pointed out that the survey has consistently shown the public wants a later start date.
Ward said: “I’d like to emphasize that it’s not just one survey that has given us this feedback. I think almost every survey we’ve taken has wanted a later start date.”
Smith replied: “I did not say it was one survey. I said the survey was one piece in my decision.”
“Well, you said this one survey at the end of your comment. That’s what I was responding to,” Ward said.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Smith said. “Then if I said that, I did not mean to. What I meant to say was that the survey is one piece. Thank you for helping me clarify if I said it wrong.”
Approved by unanimous votes that evening were school improvement plans, the property tax abatement resolution and $9.8 million in itemized bills.