New school calendar stirs protest

Some teachers object to shortening the summer break

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2000

The proposed calendar for the next school year is too long, the Juneau School Board said Tuesday night.

Board members asked Superintendent Gary Bader to cut back on a proposed two-week-plus winter break.

A small committee of staff and parents had proposed a school year that would stretch from Aug. 24, 2000, to June 6, 2001. Winter break would run from Dec. 17, 2000, to Jan. 2, 2001. And spring break would be the last week of March.

But four of the school district's nine schools didn't send anyone to the committee meeting on Jan. 31, and few parents attended. Some teachers said they weren't aware of the proposed calendar until recently and they didn't like what they saw.

Alberta Jones, a Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School teacher, said 28 of 31 surveyed teachers opposed the suggested calendar. Many wanted a shorter winter break, and some would accept a shorter spring break.

A schedule that extends into June would have a ``dramatic impact'' on staff and students who work in the summer, added Rocky Eddy, president of the Juneau Education Association, the teachers' union.

Days when support staff must take leave, to accommodate student breaks, have jumped from 10 or 12 in recent years to a proposed 14 days, said Laura Mulgrew, president of the Juneau Education Support Staff.

Support staff such as secretaries and aides would have to use up much of their paid leave on the breaks, she said. And employees who haven't accrued much leave would have to take days off without pay just before Christmas.

``If they need to take a personal day (later), they don't have leave on the books,'' Mulgrew said.

Aaron Ver, the school board's

student member, also faulted the proposed calendar for scheduling so many partial weeks - 10 in all for the high school, not counting weeks shortened by holidays.

``Whenever students see a fourday week coming up, everyone pulls back on effort,'' Ver said.

The school year would start on a Thursday and end on a Wednesday. Other weeks are cut into by staff in-service days, parentteacher conferences, and days set aside for district and state tests in some grades.

The high school has three short weeks in October. Two weeks are reduced by staff in-services scheduled for days when the high school is booked for some statewide conferences.

Within the teachers' negotiated 183 work days are an orientation day, four in-service days for staff development and two days to prepare for parent-teacher conferences.

Staff in-service days are counted as part of the state-mandated 180 annual ``student days.'' But the schedule really leaves 176 days of instruction, and that includes several half-days for parent-teacher conferences.

School board member Alan Schorr said students don't spend enough days in class.

``It's a farce,'' he said.

Board member Chuck Cohen wondered if paid in-services could be moved to Saturdays, so the school year could be shortened and parents wouldn't be inconvenienced by caring for children on a weekday afternoon.

But teachers' union president Eddy said teachers already work before and after school and on Sundays, for no extra pay, and most wouldn't want to work Saturdays too.

Superintendent Bader - who likened setting a calendar to herding cats because it's hard to reach consensus - will submit a revised calendar to the school board. A date hasn't been set yet for the board's final action.



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