School calendar switches back to its current schedule as board members cite competition from charters
Mike Szymanski | December 14, 2016
It’s back to square one. After voting in the fall to start school closer to Labor Day against the superintendent’s recommendation, enough school board members changed their minds Tuesday night and reverted the calendar to this year’s schedule, citing the need to fight decreasing enrollment and the competition from charter schools.
That means starting the school year again in mid-August, keeping a week of vacation during Thanksgiving and having three weeks of vacation over winter break rather than two weeks.
Teachers and principals cheered the return to the current schedule, saying it would help those in credit recovery classes and allow for more time at the end of the year for college tests.
Confusion resulted after a botched survey of 41,000 responses last year that showed a majority of people wanted a post-Labor Day start, but they also wanted the semester to end before winter break. They also wanted a long vacation. It’s impossible to do all of it.
“It’s disingenuous to the public to not make a connection between the two of them,” said board member Ref Rodriguez, who voted for the compromise in September but changed his mind Tuesday. “Honestly, I feel like we are duping the public and it isn’t clear. We are trying to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one.”
Scott Schmerelson, of the original members calling for the post-Labor Day start, said he changed his mind after talking to parents and principals. He said he is concerned about charter schools taking students from traditional schools, especially among those that are co-located.
“There are two things that scare me to death. One of them is charter schools taking our children, and No. 2 is a loss of enrollment from vacation time and students not returning,” Schmerelson said. “I can just picture a co-located charter, through Prop. 39, starting early and we’re starting later and the parents saying, ‘Oh heck, I’m going to enroll them in charter school because school is not open.’ I can’t allow co-located charter schools or independent charters to grab up all the kids before we even start.”
In September, the school board voted 5-2 to move the school start date closer to Labor Day by starting Aug. 22 in 2017, and then Aug. 28 in 2018. The school calendar must have 180 days of school, and it’s impossible to do that without carrying the semester over the winter break.
If classes were held closer to Christmas in 2017, the district estimated that some classes could have more than 34 percent absenteeism. Projecting what attendance was the week of Dec. 18 to Dec. 22 in 2011-2012 before the calendar was changed to the way it is now, the district estimates more than 171,000 absences on each of the last two days before the winter break (Dec. 21 and 22, 2017). According to Cheryl Simpson, director of the Budget Services and Financial Planning Division, that week of absences would result in a loss of $42 million.
“The last time I was teaching in San Pedro around the holidays I saw the absences, and it will have a huge impact on us financially, we can’t ignore that,” said board member Monica Ratliff, who voted against the change last time around. “I don’t think we should change, it’s a bad road to go down, we should stop, turn around and go back.”
And they did. Ratliff and Mónica García stuck by their votes to keep the calendar the same as it is. Board members Richard Vladovic and George McKenna stuck to their guns trying to move the calendar closer to Labor Day. Rodriguez and Schmerelson changed their votes, and Zimmer abstained.
“I am a man divided on this issue,” said Zimmer, who noted that families voted overwhelmingly in favor of a later start date in his district. But he was unwilling to compromise about breaking up the semester over the winter break. “Compromise is hard, we worked out something that did not have all of what any of us wanted.”
The change is what the principals wanted, according to Juan Flecha, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union that represents administrators.
Mylene Keipp, principal of Eagle Rock Junior and Senior High School, pleaded with the school board, “Please do not make a change. There’s so much turmoil. Let us be able to compete with charters who are stealing our kids. I need students, I need enrollment.”
Daniel Jocz, who is a National Teacher of the Year finalist, was thrilled with the change back to the original school year, Tweeting out, “This is great! Awesome! My AP students thank you!” Jocz worried that the change in class schedule would eat into instructional time to prepare for tests they take in the spring.
Student school board member Karen Calderon said she spent most of Thanksgiving break writing essays to get into college and would spend most of winter break doing the same. Her non-binding vote was to keep the schedule as is.
“I am stressed, and everyone else at my school feels anxiety and these vacation periods give us the time we need to breathe,” Calderon said.
McKenna said he believed that students will be absent from school any time around a vacation date.
“Let’s talk about what’s good for children,” said McKenna, who wanted a later start to allow students to have a longer summer. “People who work for a living have to worry about child care for three weeks of vacation.”
Vladovic said he would fight for his constituents who voted in the survey to support a post-Labor Day start and insisted: “I still believe a late start will help with student achievement.”
Superintendent Michelle King will bring back new school calendars through 2020 for the board to approve in January.