September 28, 2015 09:47AM
By Eric Vo
While area teacher unions, state representatives and parents see benefits in a regional school calendar, there are still obstacles to overcome.
The regional calendar will have at least 180 school days; a uniform start date; uniform days for professional development and in-service training for employees and no more than three school vacation periods during each school year.
While there are opportunities for cost-savings — mainly in transportation — a common calendar for area towns has potential problems.
A bill signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in June requires each region in the state to adopt a “uniform regional school calendar” starting in the 2015-16 school year.
There are six regions in the state: Cooperative Educational Services; Education Connection; Area Cooperative Educational Services; Capitol Region Education Council; LEARN and EASTCONN.
Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire are a part of the Area Cooperative Educational Services region. Southington is a part of the Capitol Region Education Council.
While the adoption of the common calendar wouldn’t affect her personally, parent Pricilla Torcello said the calendar was a “great idea.” With families that may have children in different school districts or parents teaching in different school systems, Torcello said having schools follow a common calendar regionally could help at home.
“Some parents send their kids to magnet schools,” Torcello, a Wallingford parent, said. “Personally, I think it’s a great thing.”
One parent the common calendar would benefit is Melinda Towne, who has children attending school in Wallingford and New Haven. Because both school systems follow different calendars, Towne said it’s not uncommon to have one child home and another in the classroom.
A large obstacle the regional service centers will have to work out are holidays. In New Haven, Towne said, the school systems observe a number of Jewish holidays, while Wallingford doesn’t.
The start of school will also be an issue. Wallingford schools started after Labor Day. New Haven schools started three days before Labor Day.
Susanne Jordan, who has a child in Wallingford schools and another in Hamden schools, said the calendar would “simplify my life,” and help families in a similar situation.
“It would be nice to be on the same vacation schedule,” Jordan said.
Area state legislators also support the regional school calendar. State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said she favors synchronizing school districts. The major savings for school systems will mainly come from teacher training and school bus transportation, she said. If teachers are all on break at the same time, then teachers from numerous school systems can be trained at the same time, Mushinsky said.
“As far as we’re aware, this will save districts some money and make the state more efficient,” Mushinsky said. “It’s really a money saving recommendation.”
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, a Democrat representing Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield and Middletown, said a uniform calendar will provide more opportunities.
“A uniform calendar will make it easier for families in different school districts to coordinate vacations and other activities. The regional calendar will also allow increased cooperation between schools in the same region,” she said in a statement. “This creates the opportunity for regional bus transportation or other cooperative arrangements designed to increase efficiency and cut costs.”
Agreeing on a uniform calendar means teacher contacts from school to school will have to be evaluated. Although union presidents like the idea of the regional school calendar, they did acknowledge it could present problems. Because teacher contracts differ from school system to school system, agreeing on a similar calendar could be problematic, according to Erin Benham, president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers.
Wallingford Education Association President Louis Faiella said the town’s school system is in a good position given its reputation of having a calendar over the 180 school day requirement.
However, Faiella said there may be a problem with the uniform start date. Teacher contracts in Wallingford state they “can’t start any sooner than Labor Day,” Faiella said, so there’s a possibility the contracts won’t coincide.
Like the parents, Faiella questioned how snow days and weather cancellations would affect the school systems. During the last school year, Wallingford schools were closed for a week due to a blizzard. Nearby school systems, such as Cheshire, were open as Wallingford students stayed home, Faiella said.
“There’s those little differences in terms of who’s going to have the day off and who won’t,” he said. “Those kind of things go into play. Are they insurmountable? Probably not.”
Despite the looming concerns with the regional common calendar, there is a possibility of delaying when regions have to adopt a calendar. Mushinsky said if the situation becomes too complex, the legislature can extend the time frame, which it has done in the past for other situations.
“It’s too soon to tell,” Mushinsky said when asked if the different teacher contracts can pose a problem. “We have two years. if it appears the regional educational service centers don’t think they could reconcile it out by the 2015 time frame, they could always extend it out.”