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U-46 Board approves 2019-20 calendar, fees

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved both the calendar and fees for the 2019-2020 school year at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 25.
  The fees were approved by a 7-0 vote but the calendar received a 6-1 vote, board member Jeanette Ward voting no as she has consistently opposed the earlier start date.
  The first day of classes will be Aug. 14, a week later on Aug. 21 for pre-school, which will be the seventh straight year for an earlier start date despite district surveys consistently showing public disapproval. The district did not do a survey this year.
  High school graduation will be May 23 and the last day of classes, if no emergency days are used, will come after Memorial Day on May 27, or June 3 if all five emergency days are used.
  Thanksgiving break will start on Wednesday, Nov. 27, Christmas break will start on Dec. 20 with classes resuming on Jan. 6 and the week of March 23 will be spring break.
  There are 176 instructional days scheduled (up from 173 this year) and 184 teacher attendance days.
  When a draft calendar was presented on Feb. 4, U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the calendar had been delayed this year because of possible state legislation that would eliminate some recent flexibility given to school districts by the state. The district originally proposed to schedule several early release dates through that flexibility.
  Although the flexibility still remains from the state, Sanders said U-46 removed the early release dates from this calendar due to public concerns expressed via the Let’s Talk! system.
  The calendar designates the months of August, September, October and January as student progress monitoring month/meetings which board member Sue Kerr inquired about. Melanie Meidel, assistant superintendent for special projects, said in the past the district scheduled one day for parent-teacher conferences across the district but these months make it “flexible for the schools” to schedule those meetings.
  “I appreciate that flexibility that you’ve built in for the schools,” Ward said. “I think that’s moving in a right direction where we give some control back to the local schools. I think that’s a great thing to do.”
  However, Ward added: “As in the past few years, I don’t think we should start that early in August and every time we’ve asked the public what they have thought nobody wants to start that early…. There was some debate among us whether they understood if we started later that we wouldn’t finish the semester before winter break. I think the public understood that, and I would still like us to move to a later start date.”
  The earlier start date allows for the end of first semester before Christmas break allowing for high school students to take finals before the break.
  Board member Phil Costello, who asked the district to commit to doing a survey next year, said he wasn’t sure just using Let’s Talk! was a “proper way to go” to get public feedback. He said “there should be some middle ground” to show “some rationale as to what we’re trying to accomplish” and the board should create “some kind of concrete measure” to get public feedback, something he’s argued for in the past but has not been implemented.
  “As we were looking at the responses from previous years, those responses hadn’t changed based on what was presented to the board and the board gave us feedback about the calendar in previous approved calendars,” said Meidel who said the district went to professional growth committees to get staff feedback this year.
  Board member John Devereux said any future surveys should be detailed and include the pros and cons for the different options. He also said this calendar aligns with neighboring districts.
  Sanders said “there’s really no boundaries anymore” and that U-46 needs to align with its neighbors. He said he would want to look at how other school districts receive public feedback noting that St. Charles polled its citizens with two draft calendars.
  “Mrs. Ward is right,” Sanders said. “We do have a large group that say that they want the start after Labor Day, but they also say they want finals before winter break and they also say they want to be done before Memorial Day” but “you can’t have it all.”
  Ward said: “I don’t remember us asking the community about whether they wanted to finish finals before winter break. I don’t think that was part of our survey.”
  Meidel claimed: “It was in our last survey…. We did put the questions out there for that survey.”
  However, based on a review of the Jan. 23, 2017 meeting when the last survey, which showed 73 percent opposition to the earlier start, was presented, Ward was correct. That year, the administration initially planned to follow the public input before the board’s majority asked to continue with the early start as Kerr, Ward and former board member Cody Holt were in the minority.
   Regarding finals, Sanders said in 2017 the district’s data showed “it’s not made a significant impact over these past few years academically” and “[students are] going to have that stress whether it’s before winter break or after winter break.”
  At this year’s meeting, Ward said if the first day of class was moved two weeks later finals could take place two weeks after Christmas break rather than right after the break to which Meidel said “potentially,” but Kerr said “we used to do that” and “it was horrible” because students were assigned projects over the break and the first week back would be a review which she called a “wasted week.”
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said the IHSA has moved up the athletic calendars.
  Regarding the school fees, they will remain largely the same from this year with the most substantive change being the addition of a $25 repair insurance fee for district issued Chromebooks for high school, middle school, fifth and sixth grade and fourth grade Ignite students.
  One tweak from the draft presented on Feb. 4 was changing the column that stated “Late Fee” to “Fee After Aug. 31.” There is a $20 late fee, $10 for half-day kindergarten, if the fee is paid after Aug. 31 but it appeared much higher the way the document was written and Ward suggested an edit be made.
  “You made a good point, and when we looked at it the next day we said ‘yeah, we have to change that,’” said Jeff King, chief operations officer.




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