Students will start school a week later in exchange for losing a week of fall break, according to the 2004-05 school year calendar approved Monday night by the Payson Unified School District Board of Education.
The change was made after several board members said they had received phone calls from parents requesting it, despite the fact that a parent survey indicated just the opposite. Both Payson Elementary School Principal Roy Sandoval and Payson High School Counselor Don Heizer argued against the change.
Heizer pointed out that 1,594 out of 3,250 surveys were returned -- a 49 percent return rate.
"As a parent, if an entity from the district comes and asks me my opinion and I give them my opinion and the board acts at its pleasure, I wouldn't be that happy," Heizer said. "Statisticians tell us we can make decisions based on a 15-percent return rate. With 45 or 50 percent, that's in stone. That's telling us people are pretty passionate about this."
Survey results showed 72.5 percent of respondents were happy with the current starting and ending dates and the lengths of breaks. Only 13.1 percent of respondents wanted to shorten a two-week break to one week.
Heizer said he also was concerned about the change as a member of the Superintendent's Advisory Council, a body made up of 18 teachers and other PUSD staff members. The SAC worked out details of the 2004-05 and 2005-06 calendars for the board's consideration.
"If the board had said in a calendar this is what we would like to see that would be one thing, but when the board gives direction after the fact they're not going to feel real good about it," Heizer said.
Board member Eileen Daniels questioned the validity of the high survey return rate. "A lot of those could have been filled out by students and never given to parents," she said.
Under the calendar approved by the board, the first day of school will be Thursday, Aug. 5, and the one-week fall break will begin Monday, Oct. 11. The board opted not to approve the proposed 2005-06 calendar until next year.
"I like the idea of just setting one calendar -- trying this and see how it goes," board President Viki Holmes said.
The modified calendar under which PUSD has operated the past two years shortens the traditional summer recess by about two weeks and adjusts some holiday breaks so there are recesses in the fall, at Christmas and in the spring. The result is a schedule that divides the school year into nine-week quarters, with each school session followed by a recess.
PUSD adopted the modified calendar in 2001.
"The best we can assess, the vast majority of the staff prefers to go with the modified calendar and I think some of that is because the teachers have found there is more retention of material with the shorter breaks," Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said.
The superintendent estimates that close to half the school districts in Arizona are now operating under some form of a modified calendar.