Change in school calendar unlikely

The prospect of a four-day school week in School District 51 is likely to be shelved at Tuesday’s school board meeting. But board members want the public to know that concept may be taken off the shelf and given a second glance in a few months when the district has a better idea how much money the state will cut from its 2011-12 budget.

The district examined a four-day week as a way to save an estimated $2 million after hearing the state may cut up to $12 million from next year’s District 51 budget. District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita said during a board retreat Thursday morning the most recent figure she has been told to expect from the state is a budget reduction of $4 million to $6.5 million. The figure could go up or down as state revenues roll in.

Board members largely panned the four-day-week concept during discussion Thursday. In particular they worried much of the savings would come from cutting work for some of the district’s lowest-paid employees. Board member Leslie Kiesler said a resolution adopting a 2011-12 calendar Tuesday should acknowledge the various ideas the district considered, including year-round school and a four-day week, but opt for a traditional schedule.

“That way we can give our reasons and put it to bed,” she said of the four-day-week concept.

Board member Diann Rice said she wants the resolution to be clear that the board prefers a traditional calendar for next year based on information so far about next year’s budget. If state cuts end up being worse than expected, a calendar change of some kind could be necessary, she said.

“If we vote against a four-day week and have to come back and look at $12 million in cuts, I think that will be much more difficult,” than saying the board is against the idea in any circumstance, Rice said.

District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said a four-day week is not preferable, based upon all he has heard. Still, a resolution should include the caveat that a traditional calendar is preferred “given the information we have now,” he said.

“If the $12 million happened, we may have to come back and look at a four-day week or some other year-length option,” Schultz said.

Thursday’s discussion also touched on how a year-round calendar would impact students concurrently enrolled in college, as well as savings that could be realized from lengthening the school day by five, 10 or 15 minutes and cutting two, four or six days from the school year. The estimated savings in secretarial costs, substitute teachers, fuel and transportation would amount to $116,300, $232,600, and $348,900, respectively, if two, four or six days were removed from the schedule.

The board likely will adopt one of two calendars Tuesday that resemble this year’s calendar. The differences between the two calendars are minimal and include having conferences on different days and starting winter break earlier or later.


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