Edina schools to start before Labor Day in 2014

Edina schools will begin after Labor Day in 2013, but begin prior to Labor Day in 2014, a move that angered parents attending the Edina School Board meeting.

The board unanimously approved the calendars for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years on Monday, Jan. 28.

After the vote, one audience member said, “This isn’t over. The fat lady hasn’t sung.”

A reason given for a pre-Labor Day start is planned construction projects. Construction must total more than $400,000 for a district to be able to move the start date before Labor Day, according to state law. Edina exceeds that with its project totaling $10 million, approved by the board in May 2012.

The shift in the calendar would also allow students to be in the classroom for an extra week before taking assessment and college admissions tests, according to previous discussions between school board members and administration.

The calendars also include several days where students would begin the day later or be dismissed earlier to allow teachers more time to collaborate and review assessments. Boardmember Lonnie Skrentner, a former Edina teacher, compared it to businesses who hold meetings to ensure projects are on track.

“Students are our projects,” she said.

However, parents questioned during the Jan. 28 meeting whether the board was using construction as a loophole to be able to begin the year before Labor Day.

“It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t smell right. It doesn’t pass my smell test,” said Janet Kitui, president of South View Middle School’s Parent Council.

Several board members told the audience they appreciated all of the feedback that they’ve received in the past month.

Going into the meeting, the board was considering a pre-Labor Day start both years, but a new recommendation given to the board on Monday delayed the early start until 2014.

Superintendent Ric Dressen pointed out that the delay in implementing the early start was due to listening and consulting with residents, students, staff, legal counsel, lobbyists, state legislators and the district’s Calendar Committee.

“Just as no one calendar proposal will fit every family’s personal schedule, so too was there no one voice, study or piece of information that brought us to this recommendation. We believe that the calendars the board has approved for the two years best represent the sum of all the voices we heard from while also meeting the education needs of all of our students and the infrastructure upgrades and needs of our district’s facilities,” Dressen said.

The calendar represents what is best for students and for the district’s upcoming construction projects, he said.

“I do think it’s the right thing for students,” he said.

Communications Director Susan Brott also reminded the board that beginning in 2013-14, students will be in school for an extra five minutes per day to add an extra eight hours to the school year, due to the state changing its requirement from total school days to total school hours.

The district will also continue to lobby the state Legislature to allow school districts to have more local control over the calendar, Dressen said after the meeting.

Some parents thanked the board for delaying the implementation, but remained opposed to the pre-Labor Day start because of concerns regarding family time in August and a lack of air conditioning in some of the schools.

However, parents overwhelming questioned the district’s motives for beginning school before Labor Day.

Parents pointed out that Edina’s test results are already among the top results. They repeatedly requested the data from the board to back up the statement that the extra time would increase test scores, without a response from the board.

After giving the board a petition to start after Labor Day with 385 signatures, Edina parent Laurel Fishbach told the board that if it shows the data, parents will willingly let their children start school before Labor Day.

“We’ll give them up. Just please let everyone in Edina enjoy the month of August,” she told the board.

Johnna Reich, mother an Edina elementary student, said she wanted parents to be a part of the process and solution. She requested the board allow parents to vote on whether they want the district to begin before Labor Day.

She pointed out that tests are a “one day picture” of a student and higher test scores aren’t guaranteed because students start school earlier.

“Are we teaching to a test or are we teaching to our individual children?” she asked the board.

The Minnesota Department of Education hasn’t received any Labor Day waiver applications yet from Minnesota districts requesting a pre-Labor Day start, MDE spokesman Keith Hovis said. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis as they come in. In 2012, 181 Minnesota schools began before Labor Day, 82 of those were due to construction projects, according to MDE.

In Edina, construction totaling $10 million annually will be taking place during the summers for the next six years. Construction in the remaining four years will total $3.5 million annually. The construction is part of the district’s 10-year Alternative Facilities Plan to improve the infrastructure at all of the district’s schools. The district plans to complete the largest projects first which need that extra week of summer for construction, Brott said after the meeting.

The board approved during its Jan. 28 meeting issuing $11.7 million in bonds to help fund the project. The first year of the 10-year plan was included in the school district’s levy payable in 2013.

Construction is expected to begin at Concord Elementary immediately after the school year ends in June. Cornelia Elementary’s construction is scheduled for the summer of 2014, Dressen said after the meeting. Construction will be on infrastructure improvements like replacing the roof, updating the heating and cooling systems and replacing windows.

The change isn’t permanent and is for one year, he said after the meeting. The next review of school calendars will occur in two years.

Board Chair Randy Meyer said this is the typical time of year when the board approves its calendar. The board must have a calendar approved at least six months in advance of the school year, according to policy.

The process to create a calendar begins in October, when the calendar parameters for items like parent-teacher conferences, Dressen said. The Calendar Committee, led by Human Resources Director Gwen Jackson, then begins to create two to three calendar options. A recommendanded calendar is then sent to the district’s faculty for a vote in November. The school board then sees the calendar in December to discuss, Dressen said.

 

Contact Lisa Kaczke at lisa.kaczke@ecm-inc.com

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