2012-04-12 / News

School panel approves calendar

Also, committee plays with numbers to reach council’s zero-percent-increase plan

The School Committee approved a new calendar for the 2012-13 academic year at its April 5 meeting, which lasted less than 20 minutes. “I feel good about this calendar,” said Superintendent Marcia Lukon.

Grades one through eight will start school on Aug. 30, the same day the kindergarten and prekindergarten hold orientation, which will open the following day.

The last day of school will depend on the number of make-up days. The calendar shows the possible last day of school over a range of dates from June 19 to June 26, allowing six make-up days for snow and other contingencies.

School will also be closed three days due to professional development. Teachers have eight development days altogether and may be asked to attend two additional sessions over the summer of 2013.

“We got really good feedback from parents and teachers; they liked how we placed the professional development days,” Lukon said. She alluded to the fact these are days when teachers are in school, but the children do not attend classes.

Lukon selected Fridays for most development days to create long weekends and holidays for the families. For example, a development day on Feb. 15 extends the February vacation (Feb. 18 to Feb. 22). Another development day on April 12 precedes the spring recess, which runs from April 15 to April 19.

“Remember, we had some problems with extended weekends,” she said, referring to the fact some children had been missing school because their parents wanted to take long weekends for family ski trips. “We tried to create those for them,” she said.

In all, this calendar reserves five days for professional development during the regular school year. Teachers will work on the primary day on Sept. 11 and on the Election Day on Nov. 6, while children will not attend classes. The calendar also includes a development day on Jan. 18.

In addition, the teachers will have to report for development days before the first day of school and may have to work after the last day of school. The summer professional development dates are to be announced, Lukon said.

Lukon said previously a new teacher evaluation system is pending and may require some teachers and staff to attend professional development over the summer.

Except for the positive feedback about development days, the School Department received few comments from parents, teachers and staff specifically about the new calendar, which had been circulated for suggestions prior to the official vote, Lukon said.

Lukon said only one change was made to the draft version to reschedule the Melrose Avenue School open house date, which is now set for Sept. 12.

Lukon also tabled another idea. One parent had suggested moving the winter vacation to March. That may be a good idea, Lukon said, but added Jamestown could not act on its own to change the vacation schedule.

“In a state this size, it would have to be the whole state,” she said, but added the concept could be discussed later if the whole state wanted to make the adjustment.

Committee member Julia Held asked if the Jamestown and North Kingstown calendars are going to be aligned. Lukon said the calendars were not completely in sync. She said there were differences, but the schedules were aligned “as much as we are able to do.”

The vote to accept the calendar was unanimous, 4-0. The committee’s fifth member, B.J. Whitehouse, was not at the meeting.

In other business, the School Committee accepted budget changes to comply with the town councilors request for a zero percent increase for the upcoming year. The general operating budget will go down to $11,923,763, which reflects a 0.85 percent increase over the year before, said Jane Littlefield, business manager.

The new spending package totals $12,115,962, and that’s actually an increase of 1.02 percent, she said. But the combined budget represents both the general operating budget and the capital fund. The capital fund expenses will come out of the School Department’s reserve fund, according to Lukon.

Littlefield said she wanted to reduce the contingency budget line by $22,913 to achieve the zero percent. She went on to say that a review of health insurance premiums allowed her to justify the reduction. Medical expenses are projected to rise, but by a lesser amount next year than in past years, she said.

Littlefield said she also needed an official motion to authorize cutting the town’s contribution to the schools by $101,034, making the total contribution $11,398,023, which represents a 0.85 percent increase.

The panel questioned whether or not the budget adjustments were feasible. But Lukon said the administration is “comfortable” with the change, despite some risk.

“We have some really big unknowns coming up,” she acknowledged, but added the increases in medical payments are likely to be smaller next year than in past years.

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