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BOE Postpones Potential Calendar Decision

Published: June 22, 2018

The Board of Education held off voting on potential changes to the 2018-19 school calendar at its meeting on June 20 to further look at proposals presented by the superintendent.

The 2018-19 school calendar was also discussed at the board’s previous meeting on June 5, when Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue said the 2017-18 school year forced the district to reevaluate its calendar due to the number of school cancellations. The 2018-19 calendar was originally approved in February of 2017. As approved, the first day of school is slated to be August 27 for students, and the last day of school is projected to be June 7 or June 14, assuming five school days are canceled.

Board of Education members discussed calendar issues at the June 5 meeting to give Dr Rodrigue direction before she met with district administrators to determine proposed changes. Discussion at the meeting included adding clarity to the calendar regarding the end of the school year, the scheduled April break, and board member Dan Delia pointed out that most of the discussions have centered around avoiding a late end to the school year while starting the school year in August is hotter, as previously reported in The Newtown Bee.

Since that meeting, Dr Rodrigue said she spoke to other district stake holders — like the district’s administrative team, staff members, and PTA presidents — to create the proposed modifications.

“We believe we have a thoughtful approach regarding school calendar changes,” said Dr Rodrigue. “[The changes] would certainly apply to unforeseen weather or unforeseen emergencies in the future.”

The proposed calendar would include language around the obligations for the number of school days and the end of the school year, she said. Proposed changes also include staff development day modifications, including a full-day on April 5 for staff development. The calendar has two less early release days for professional development due to the full-day of professional development on April 5. Changes also focused on offering delayed opening days for professional development over early release days, unless the days were scheduled on a long-weekend, according to Dr Rodrigue.

As shared with the school board, language added to the calendar reads, “State of Connecticut mandates 180 calendar days for students. Beyond the projected June 10 date, school cancellation days will be made up by adding days through June 28. By March 15, if there are more than nine cancellations, April 5 will be a full day of school.”

Board members also discussed potentially adding more specific wording around the use of April break vacation days as makeup days, but the general conclusion was, as presented, the new wording for the calendar leaves April break intact, yet also available if needed in an extreme year.

“This calendar is making a statement that we won’t take from April break,” said Board of Education Vice Chair Rebekah Harriman-Stites, adding that an extraordinary year would force the board to evaluate those days.

The proposed 2018-19 calendar was presented as having 187 teacher days and 182 student days, which would be one less student day than originally approved for next year. The school board held off its decision on the calendar due to a question of accuracy around the count of days as scheduled. February was presented to have 17 school days, but it had 18 on the calendar shared with board members. Mr Delia said he would not vote on a calendar that was “not complete,” and Dr Rodrigue also asked for an extra day to confirm the proposed calendar days. School board members discussed potentially scheduling a special meeting next week to vote on the proposed calendar.

As presented, the first day of school for students would be August 27, 2018, and the projected last day of school, without cancellations, would be June 10, 2019.

Dr Rodrigue shared a list of school calendars from other districts in Newtown’s District Reference Group (DRG), and the list showed no other district having students attend school for 183 days, which was the approved number of school days in the current 2018-19 calendar.

Board members also brought up looking at adding more days to February break, and board member Andrew Clure questioned going to school in late June when the district starts school in August. Board of Education Chair Michelle Embree Ku said that since the calendar was already approved for 2018-19, the board was generally looking to make smaller changes in response to the weather-related challenges of the past year. She also said it could look at bigger changes to the calendar for future school years.

School board members also discussed potentially changing the date of its scheduled July 17 meeting due to a number of board members having conflicts for that date.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the district’s Monthly Financial Report for May, as presented by Business Director Ron Bienkowski. According to the report, “Positive balances continue to increase as operations move toward year-end closure.” The projected balance is now $213,618.

Ms Ku said the balance is “much better than we anticipated.”

The school board also approved budget adjustments for the 2018-19 budget. Mr Bienkowski said the board annually approves adjustments for known changes for the budget that happen after it is approved at referendum and before it begins on July 1. Approved adjustments included changes in staffing and salaries.

The school board’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) was also approved at the meeting. The plan estimates projects over the next ten years. As approved projects for next year include replacing a boiler and a lighting energy project at Hawley Elementary School for $744,239 and a boiler replacement at Newtown High School for $2,238,565. The second year of the plan has a ventilation and HVAC renovation with a partial air conditioning project for the 1921 portion of Hawley’s building for $5,002,267.

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