News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 31, 2013

Calendar not set for Clay schools

Balanced calendar discussion continues; decision next month

Brian Boyce
The Tribune-Star

BRAZIL — After lengthy discussion Wednesday night concerning proposed scheduling changes, the future of Clay Community Schools’ calendar remains hanging in the balance.

More than 20 members of the public participated in a special work session of the Clay Community School Board at which input was solicited about a proposed balanced calendar system. Administrators brought three different calendars for discussion, representing a mix of start and finish dates and different lengths of breaks throughout the year.

The proposed first student days include Aug. 19, Aug. 1 and Aug. 8, with all three tentatively ending on May 29, pending possible snow days. But it was how a variety of proposed breaks were formulated that dominated the discussion. All three schedules are presented online.

By the conclusion of the 90-minute open forum, several board members expressed uncertainty as to how they might eventually vote.

Board member Tom Reberger said that given the audience’s comments throughout the evening, a majority vote wouldn’t be reached by that group on any of the three ideas presented.

“So what we’ve got to do is come up with the best we can come up with,” he said.

A survey conducted last year found 71 percent of respondents favor a balanced schedule approach, which would start the school year earlier but provide longer breaks throughout, such as a proposed two-week spring break. But parents and some board members questioned the validity of the survey given that some of the results were collected online and others through print-outs and clippings from newspapers.

Kathy Knust, director of curriculum for the corporation, said considerable work went into the process of creating and evaluating the survey. The fact that 71 percent of the respondents were in favor of a balanced calendar speaks volumes, she said.

“That’s amazing to me that you got 71 percent,” she said.

Questions arose regarding how much of the 71 percent was from the online survey, where participants could potentially vote multiple times. After some discussion on that issue, audience member Jason Maurer said regardless of the count, the overwhelming majority “wants something that is different than what you have now.”

Maurer said he’s for the balanced calendar, and the two-week spring break in particular, because it allows employees an opportunity to better share vacation time. With just one week, many parents try to take off the same days, meaning scheduling at the workplace is complicated.

Other parents objected to the longer breaks, though, pointing out this increases the need for daycare. It was brought up that some of the smaller towns in the county, such as Clay City, have only one daycare or none at all, and the drive to Brazil can be more than 20 miles from the district’s southern point.

Other concerns raised included the fact that many area children depend on the school lunch as their primary meal of the day, and fears of learning loss over a two-week spring break were raised, though administrators insisted research shows the opposite to be true.

Board member Ron Scherb maintained opposition to the balanced proposals throughout the meeting, saying he had 17 objections, but among his biggest issue is that he feels Aug. 1 is too early to start school. Too many questions remain about conflicts, he said, advising the board he’d prefer to spend this year working out the details and then reconsider for the 2014-2015 year.

Board president Jennifer Kaelber said continues to have mixed opinions on the topic and would consider more input before offering a final vote.

“There is not one single option that is going to make everyone in Clay County happy, there’s just not,” she said, emphasizing her hope to come up with the best plan possible.