The school calendar is the heartburn of the board,” said member Rory Huff during the Dec. 17 school board meeting.
Looking at the faces of the superintendent and other board members, Huff’s comment hit the mark.
In a grudging three-to-one compromise, the Payson school board agreed to start the 2013-14 school year on July 29, 2013 and add five paid professional days to the district calendar. However, the board deferred until January a decision on exactly how vacations, snow days and length of quarters will play out.
The school calendar has been the topic of conversation for months among various school groups, including the Parent Advisory Committee, the Leadership Council made up of principals, the teaching and classified staff and the Customer Service Advisory Council.
All the groups said they agree student achievement remains the top goal, but when the board attempted to vote on a calendar, numerous stakeholders who missed the earlier discussions spoke up.
“You (the board) mentioned you wanted buy-in with the staff,” said Will Dunman, principal of Rim Country Middle School (RCMS). “It’s heated now, wait till we take this to the middle school staff.”
“Where have you been, Will?” asked Huff, alluding to the fact that as part of the Leadership group, Dunman had for weeks participated in the calendar discussions.
Payson High School (PHS) teacher Shelly Camp said the PHS staff had a lot of time to see the calendar.
Technology Director Joni de Szendeffy agreed. “I saw a lot of those emails (about the calendar) and the input from the district,” she said.
But de Szendeffy also said she understood the calendar would offer a “cultural change” by removing the 19 half-days the district has this year for staff professional development.
Currently, students head home at noon two days out of every month so teachers can listen to speakers and undergo training.
The half-days have come under fire from parents and teachers alike. Many feel the day is unproductive for the students. Some schools use the remaining half of the day to schedule assemblies. Parents complain children do not have the time to involve themselves in a lesson. Teachers feel the same. So does board member Matt Van Camp.
“A half-day is a negative impact on student achievement,” he said at Monday’s meeting.
Yet, professional development is necessary for teachers to keep their credentials.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock knew the calendar discussion would turn contentious, but had to get an answer to the half-days, additional budgeting and school start date. He kept his comments to a minimum and only made them at the beginning of the meeting.
“I want the board to understand this vote will not just be about a calendar, but also will have a fiscal impact,” he said. “I recommend five professional days before and after the school year – that’s five additional days on top of the 180 days in the contract.”
The five additional days would be added to the two paid professional days already in place. These seven days would replace the 19 current half-days, Hitchcock said.
However, the district was allowed to charge the half-days as full days and so receive funding from the state. By making the days stand-alone professional days, the district and board will have to find the money from somewhere else, Hitchcock said.
Huff immediately wondered where the money would come from when he understood what Hitchcock asked for.
“On that issue of funding — how are you figuring on covering it?” he asked.
Lead teacher of the Payson Center for Success, Linda Gibson, replied that it might be a wash when comparing the time teachers spent away at conferences designed to keep up their certification requirements, substitute teacher costs and lost days of instruction. But she said until district business manager Kathe Manning can crunch the numbers, she did not know how it would all play out.
With its vote, the board decided to take the gamble that it will be able to find the funding.
The board will return to the issue of the calendar at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 14.
“I’ve done the calendar for the last six years,” said Huff. “No one is ever happy with the results.”