Livingston Board of Education Debates the New School Calendar
Tuesday, June 5, 2012 • 6:47am
LIVINGSTON, NJ - If there’s a perfect school calendar that accommodates religious holidays, winter breaks, high school graduation, the start of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation, the Livingston Board of Education has yet to see it.
An agenda item to consider changes to the district calendar for 2012-13 – and beyond – was at the center of contentious discussion at the board’s scheduled voting meeting Monday night at the high school.
State law mandates 180 school days to which the district adds three days to accommodate weather-related closures. But that’s just the beginning of what has become an increasingly torturous process as administrators struggle to balance educational mandates with an array of what Superintendent Brad Draeger politely termed “competing demands.”
An earlier start date, full winter breaks and summer camp are major points of discussion for the board and e-mails and discussions circulating around town, said Draeger. One option being explored would move election activity out of the schools so that they may remain open on those days, but not in time to be implemented for the general election in November.
Board President Leslie Winograd quoted data that she said found one-third of New Jersey districts will end their school years on June 24, 25 and 26, and a number of districts eliminating full February vacations in favor of a long weekend. “Other districts don’t give two days off for [the Jewish New Year celebration of] Rosh Hashanah” like Livingston, she said, although one day for Yom Kippur seems to be universal.
Schools also have to accommodate a number of professional development days for teachers, as well as holidays such as Martin Luther King Day. But the thornier, linked issues are February break and the start of summer camp. “It is a question of what this community values more,” Board member Barry Funt told the meeting.
“Having a full February break means we run into the start of camp,” said Board Vice-President Ron Spring.
“What we’re hearing from camps is that [the calendar] is a problem,” said Winograd. Many camps have progressively pushed their start dates up against the end of school in part, she said, to close earlier in August in order to host lucrative corporate events.
Winograd said she has had discussions with management of some day camps who have decided to move their start date to July 1. “Regardless, I would ask members of the public to push back against their camps. They are in it to make money; we are in it to educate your kids.”
A portion of the audience applauded their approval, but a substantial group was just as vocal in supporting the early start to camp.
Draeger reminded the Board that with 5,800 students and 10,000 parents in the district, whatever compromise is made on the calendar means “you’ll have an unhappy camper somewhere in Livingston.”
The Board declined to make any immediate calendar changes, and plans a survey in order to gather more information.
At the meeting, the Board unanimously approved the new contract negotiated with unionized members of the Livingston Education Association.
Draeger also announced that the school days would be extended in 2012-13, by 15 minutes for elementary schools; nine minutes for Mt. Pleasant Middle School and Heritage, and by six minutes for Livingston High School.