Next School Schedule Remains Undecided

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Payson School District's schedule for next school year is still up in the air.

Members of the Superintendent's Advisory Council an 18-member advisory board that includes teachers and district staff members sent a proposal for a modified school calendar back to the school board Wednesday for review.

The stumbling block is a disagreement in the length of the first of three breaks that would be created by a modified school schedule. Studies indicate that modified schedules that include more breaks throughout the school year with shorter summer recesses improve student learning, behavior and performance.

The board recommended a 9-1, 9-2, 9-2 formula that allows for nine weeks of school and a one-week break, followed by two sessions marked by nine weeks of school with two-week breaks.

The council prefers a schedule that provides a two-week break after the first nine weeks of school, creating a "9-2, 9-2, 9-2" formula.

"I don't know that there's a big difference between (the two debated schedules)," said Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels after the meeting.

"The board acted based on what they were told. But I think this committee would like to do it the way they first envisioned it. So we'll get it back to the board and see if they'd like to reconsider it," Weissenfels said.

SAC members said they recommended reconsideration due to pressure from football coaches who think the board's suggested calendar would be in conflict with their own schedules, as well as pressure from parents who had already planned and paid for family vacations that would not be accommodated within the 9-1 formula.

Researched and recommended to the PUSD Board of Education by SAC, the new calendar would shorten the summer recess by about two weeks and adjust some holiday breaks, creating a one- or two-week recess in the fall the part of the calendar still under debate and two-week recesses at Christmas and in the spring.

The resulting schedule would divide the school year into nine-week quarters, with each school session followed by a recess. Students will attend school the same number of days under the modified schedule as they would under the traditional model. One school day, however, will be added to the calendar each of the next five years as mandated by Proposition 301, the education funding measure approved by voters in the November general election.

A modified calendar differs from a year-round calendar, which eliminates the extended summer recess in favor of a series of equally-spaced shorter breaks, usually two-weeks in length.

In a related discussion, the council also shelved further discussion of the development of "intersessions" remedial courses for students who need extra help.

Most of the advisory board members favored dropping the intersession idea for the 2001-2002 school year, to give educators a chance to determine whether the modified schedule works.

Insurance rate hike

In other business, the board was confronted with a possible health insurance rate hike for school district employees of as much as 28 percent for both family and individual health insurance coverage.

According to PUSD Business Manager Bobette Sylvester, the school district's health care provider, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, has upped the renewal quote of the district's near-$1 million policy by 28 percent across the board.

"That's sizable," Sylvester said. "You're talking $64 per person, per month, for the district, and $83 per person, per month for family coverage. We don't think that's acceptable."

Sylvester said she was meeting with Blue Cross/Blue Shield today (Friday) to "see how well we can play hardball ... But we won't know until the following Wednesday what their final offer is going to be."

After analyzing the related data, Sylvester said, it was her conclusion that "a 20-percent increase ... would be reasonable within our utilization, within the market in Arizona, and in light of the fact that Arizona legislation passed last year affected our costs, including the (newly granted) right to sue your HMO. When you're allowed to sue, it increases your costs. It's good legislation, but it has a backlash."

When the final Blue Cross/Blue Shield offer comes in, Sylvester said, there will be three options: "Accept the 20-percent increase (if it is indeed negotiated); go out to bid and see what happens in the marketplace; or for us to say, 'Let's go to a different way of providing service.'

"Right now, we have a very rich plan ... We could modify it so that it's not quite so rich ... If we did that, our increase might range from 12 to 15 percent."

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