Debate continues over statewide school calendar

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(Host) Just about any family with kids is familiar with planning life around their children’s school schedule.

State lawmakers have decided that public schools across Vermont should follow the same calendar to simplify vacation schedules.

A single calendar would also assist technical schools which often serve several different districts.

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, not everyone likes the idea.

(Keck) Lawmakers have already decided when school needs to start; the Tuesday before Labor Day.

But they’ve left it to a 15-member committee to work out the details and come up with an actual calendar.

That committee has been holding public forums across the state to get input on the issue.

Committee member Ken Fredette chairs the Wallingford school board and is a member of the state school board association.

(Fredette) "I had issues down in Rutland South years ago where our high school – Mill River High School – our calendar was not aligned with Stafford technical center. They had different vacation weeks. So it created big problems. The kids never actually got a vacation, it created big transportation burdens for their parents. And I said, `Why aren’t we all on the same calendar?”’

(Keck) Fredette says most people like the idea of having school vacations at the same time.

Just ask a teacher who works in one district, but has children attending school in another.

But critics say many of the problems can be better addressed locally and there’s concern that a one- size-fits-all approach will impede creativity.

Lawmaker Janet Ancel, who chairs the House Education Committee, disagrees. She says students and teachers will benefit.

(Ancel) "The advantage that I see to it is if all schools are on the same calendar, then there is a potential for sharing teaching resources that I don’t think really exists now.”

(Keck) Don Collins chairs the Senate Education Committee. He likes that the new legislation puts some teeth into the requirement that public schools need to provide at least 175 student education days.

To count as a full day, the majority of students must be in school for five and a half hours.

Collins, a former school administrator, says too often, school officials fudge attendance figures and decide at the last minute that a half day here or there is okay.

(Collins) "They closed school for in-service, they closed school for parent-teacher conferences, they closed school for a number of reasons they thought were good but it shortchanged the students in my mind."

(Keck) Mary Moran, Superintendent of Rutland City schools, bristles at that.

(Moran) "I do respectfully disagree with Senator Collins’ assertion that this superintendent or any of my colleagues with whom I work are in any way fudging anything that has to do with our children and their attendance at school."

(Keck) Moran says their calendar reflects their needs. Rutland City schools, for instance, require 180 student days, so Moran says they like to start in August.

But in 2009, when the calendar goes into effect, they’ll have to start September 1st.

If there are any snow days, she says that would mean the year wouldn’t end until the fourth week of June.

State lawmaker Janet Ancel says she’s committed to a state wide calendar, but she says many legitimate concerns have been raised. She says they’ll be addressed when lawmakers reconvene in January.

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck.

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