Williamstown Elementary Committee Weighing Calendar Options

By Stephen DravisWilliamstown Correspondent
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Williamstown is considering a request to begin school earlier next fall.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The elementary school could be looking at a very short summer, depending on what the school committee decides next week about the 2014-15 school calendar.
Thanks to the five snow days — and counting — at Williamstown Elementary School this winter, the current school year already is slated to end on June 26.
On Wednesday night, the committee was presented with two options for next year's calendar: one that starts before Labor Day and one that starts after.
If they choose the former, teachers would report back on Tuesday, Aug. 26 with children arriving the next day. If the latter, the teachers' year would begin on Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day, with children starting on Sept. 3.
The committee decided to make a decision about the calendar on Wednesday, March 19, when it convenes for a public hearing on the fiscal 2015 budget.
This year, the school year started after Labor Day, but the school's teachers asked the administration to look at an earlier start in 2014, the school's superintendent and principal told the committee on Wednesday.
"The contract says we cannot start before [Aug.] 28th, but we can talk to the [teachers] association about changing it," Superintendent Rose Ellis said. "The association took a vote, and they're requesting with our principal the consideration of starting before Labor Day."
Principal Joelle Brookner told the committee a few teachers initially came to her individually asking about the earlier start, initiating a conversation that led to the vote.
"Last year, I did ask them to vote [on an earlier start date], and they voted it down," Brookner said. "This year, they asked for it."
Ellis and Brookner encouraged the committee to nail down the calendar as soon as possible because of the number of inquiries staff has been fielding already about the vacation schedules. The committee had planned to vote the matter at its April 9 meeting but instead moved the timetable to next Wednesday.
There was no clear consensus at this week's meeting which way the panel will go, and the question is complicated by individual members' requests to shorten breaks during the school year in order to avoid the kind of end-of-June scenario the school faces this year.
Three days listed as holidays on the draft calendar are at issue: Nov. 26, Dec. 22 and Dec. 23.
Business Manager Lynn Bassett breaks down the numbers at Wednesday's meeting.
John Skavlem, who argued against giving a full day off on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when the holiday was created two years ago, pushed to re-institute a half day of instruction before the long weekend.
"If parents want to take that and go somewhere, they do it anyway," Skavlem said.
Ellis noted that school went to an off-day on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, in part, because of the number of families with children at both the elementary and Mount Greylock Regional School, where the Wednesday is traditionally a holiday.
Neither Mount Greylock junior-senior high nor its other sending elementary school, Lanesborough Elementary, has set its 2014-15 calendar.
As for Dec. 22-23, that Monday and Tuesday are at issue because if the school is closed those two days, it creates a solid two-week break in the middle of the school year. Schools traditionally close for their "Winter Break" around Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, through New Year's Day.
With Jan. 1 falling on a Thursday, it makes no sense to fire up the boiler and open the school for one day, that Friday, in the dead of winter.
"Two days is really the minimum we'd want to do that," Brookner said.
This year, the school planned to reopen on Thursday, Jan. 2, for an abbreviated two-day week, but it was closed Jan. 2 and 3 because of snow, creating a full two-week break.
While the committee chose to wait another week to hash out the calendar question, it did decide on how many school choice slots to allow for 2014-15.
WES will offer 12 choice slots for the coming year: four each in kindergarten and second grade, three in fifth grade and one in fourth grade. As of March 3, the school had received eight inquiries about choice opportunities — four in the second grade.
This year, WES has 39 school-choice students with by far the largest in the fifth grade, which has 13 choice students. Four choice students in the current sixth grade graduate in June.
School choice revenue is one of the "revolver" accounts the school plans to use to balance its FY15 budget, on which the committee was briefed Wednesday by Ellis and business manager Lynn Bassett.
The preliminary FY15 budget presented on Wednesday is 4.65 percent higher than FY14, an increase of $255,308 for a total expenditure of $5.75 million.
Since the town is offering 2.5 percent more revenue and state funding sources are expected to remain flat at best, the school plans to use its revolvers to cover the shortage.
The school hopes to achieve some savings in FY15 by offering eligible teachers a one-time early retirement incentive of $10,000. To be eligible, a teacher must have a minimum of 20 years of service at the school and be at least 55 years old.
Retirees would continue to receive health benefits until they turn 65, but officials hope the new hires would come in at low enough salaries to generate savings, Ellis said.
The committee and public will hear another budget presentation on March 19, when the committee plans to vote its proposed budget to send to town voters at May's town meeting.

Tags: calendar,   WES,   

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