School calendar caught in contract limbo

/ 28 February 2012 / jennifer

Steve Brandt, Star Tribune, February 28, 2012 –

You think your job is tough? How about coming up with a Minneapolis school calendar that satisfies more than 33,000 students, their parents, another 3,000 teachers and assorted other players?

Parents generally want to delay the start of school until after Labor Day, according to a district survey. But teachers—three quarters of whom don’t have children in city schools—are split on starting before or after Labor Day. They definitely want a 10-day holiday break and a five day spring break. That’s their time to recharge.

The setting of a calendar is complicated this year by the failure so far to finish negotiating a new teacher contract. In fact, the calendar was scheduled to be voted on Tuesday by the school board. But it was pulled from the agenda because several board contract proposals that affect the calendar are still tied up in teacher talks, most notably a district push for a longer school year. The school board got briefed on calendar issues earlier this month. A contract settlement appears near.

The recommended draft calendar is designed to frontload the district’s classroom days before the spring state testing cycle. That’s why administrators are recommending a start before Labor Day, fewer short school weeks , and only seven school days off over the Christmas-New Year break. Students would get two days off instead of three at Thanksgiving.

Administrators argue that the school calendar is a vestige of an agricultural heritage, and that the district needs more days in the classroom to help nudge the achievement gap. The district currently has 172 student days in class but has been pushing to boost that by four days in negotiations. It also wants to start school five days earlier in the summer at its lowest-testing schools to add five days for those students.

But until there’s agreement on that, the board will delay adopting its calendar, which is relied on by other schools and institutions in the city to set their own calendars in sync with the district.Teacher union chief Lynn Nordgren chided the board for discussing the calendar before a new contract is settled..

As now drafted, the recommended option starts the 2012-13 school year on Aug. 27 for all grades but kindergarten, who would start two days later. The last day of school would be June 4.