September 30, 2013 01:15PM
By Eric Vo
Area school officials have mixed feelings regarding plans for a regional common calendar, which would have school systems in the same region following the same calendar.
Public Act 13-247 of House Bill 6706, which was signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on June 19, requires each region to adopt a “uniform regional school calendar” starting the 2015-16 school year. Each region has the option to adopt the calendar during the 2014-15 school year.
There are six regional educational service centers in the state: Cooperative Educational Services; Education Connection; Area Cooperative Educational Services; Capitol Region Education Council; LEARN and EASTCONN. These regional educational service centers will be responsible of developing a common calendar for its respective school systems to follow.
Meriden, Wallingford and Cheshire are a part of the Area Cooperative Educational Services region. Southington is a part of the Capitol Region Education Council.
The regional school calendar must have at least 180 school days; a uniform start date; uniform days for professional development and in-service training for certified employees and no more than three uniform school vacation periods during each school year, according to the bill.
The state will put together a Uniform Regional School Calendar Task Force to develop guidelines for the common calendar, which it will submit to each regional educational service center by Jan. 1, 2014.
Each region has to submit its school calendar to the state Board of Education for approval no later than April 1, 2014.
Wallingford Board of Education member Kathy Castelli said the plan carries with it a number of benefits and negatives.
“The biggest bang for your buck is the regional transportation, which will utilize some sort of cost savings,” she said. “But there’s an issue with getting it in place so quickly (because of) contractual issues.”
Because each region has to develop its own school calendar for the respective school systems to follow, contracts from all schools would have to be evaluated, Castelli said. If there’s a contract that specifically states a teacher has to have certain days off, “then that could be an issue,” she said.
There’s also an issue with the amount of school days in the calendar for each school system. Wallingford students typically go to school more than the 180 day minimum.
“Some schools go for longer amount of days than others,” Castelli said. “There’s an issue there. You have to extend the calendar out to encompass the one that has the most days.”
Southington School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi Jr. shares Castelli’s views on the regional school calendar, adding there are “significant up and down sides.”
“The enormous negative piece is that the local decision of when youngsters should go to school would be completely removed from the Board of Education,” Erardi said. “That’s just not a good thing.”
In Southington, where a building project is taking place, the Board of Education decided to have students return to school after Labor Day so the project wouldn’t be affected or delayed, Erardi said. If the decision is taken out of the local level, “it gets very isolated and very complicated,” he said.
“I’m a believer for local governance for local schools,” Erardi added.
Meriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni had the same opinion as Erardi, believing local Boards of Education should determine the school calendar. Benigni described how weather can impact one area of the state more significantly than others, and how different communities observe different holidays.
“There will be a series of concerns that are going to be raised by this,” Benigni said, “and I’m not so sure the benefits of going to a regional calendar are going to outweigh the disruptions that it would cause.”
Cheshire School Superintendent Greg Florio said he understands the reasoning behind the regional calendar, but questions its effectiveness in the future.
“There’s more opportunity for regional bidding, specifically in transportation,” Florio said, “but I also think if that opportunity was available we can work around school calendars to make that work as well.”
Though there are issues, the plan could also result in cost savings for school systems – largely in transportation. Castelli said the town is already seeing some of the cost benefits of regional transportation, where it collaborated with area towns for special education students.
Erardi agreed, adding that the regional calendar would also allow each school system to combine professional development . He described how Southington, Meriden and Wallingford are working together to have common professional development with personalized learning throughout the school year.
“That makes it so much easier,” he said.
With things are still in the early stages — the regions having until the 2015-16 school year to adopt a common school calendar — Castelli said the state will have “active conversations soon.”
“There’s more to come. We’re in the preliminary stages at this point,” she said. “This is just a heads up to the school districts to get ready. It’s coming.”