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Williamstown Elementary Cuts Days Off From 2014-15 Calendar

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
08:42AM / Friday, March 21, 2014
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Williamstown Elementary School Superintendent Rose Ellis discusses the budget at Wednesday's meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williamstown Elementary School students can enjoy a little bit more vacation time this summer.
 
But they can say goodbye to an early start to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
 
After a protracted discussion that spanned two meetings, the School Committee on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve a school calendar that starts after Labor Day.
 
In order to avoid a school year like this one that drags into the last week of June, the committee took away three days off during the school year — including the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
 
That day, Nov. 26 this year, will be a noon dismissal in 2014. Several years ago, the committee opted to make that Wednesday a full day off in recognition of the reality that absenteeism is particularly high that day.
 
The other two days off deleted on Wednesday from the draft calendar are Dec. 22 and 23.
 
Now, the school's "Winter Break" will begin on Dec. 24 with a return to school on Jan. 5. With New Year's Day falling on a Thursday, school officials are loathe to reopen school for one day on Jan. 2, Superintendent Rose Ellis explained at last week's meeting.
 
The new anticipated end date for the 2014-15 school year — barring snow days — is Tuesday, June 16.
 
WES staff members will have their first full day on Tuesday, Sept. 2. Children will report on Wednesday, Sept. 3.
 
Before the three days off were eliminated by the committee, a post-Labor Day start to the school year would have meant ending the year on Friday, June 19 — meaning that the use of even one snow day would push the last day of school into the next week.
 
The compromise plan preserves a little bit of summer this year (when the projected last day of school is June 26) and keeps the possibility of wrapping up the 2014-15 calendar in the third week of June.
 
Although at times the discussion of the calendar seemed excessive, it was not a cut-and-dried issue.
 
The committee nearly voted on the issue last week but took another week to consider the options. Committee member Richard Reynolds used that time to do an informal survey of his acquaintances with children in the school.
 
Reynolds received 27 responses on a survey distributed to 44 families, and the responses were right down the middle: 12 families preferred starting before Labor Day (Sept. 1 this year), 12 families preferred starting after Labor Day and three expressed no preference.
 
Reynolds also reported comments from the respondents that indicated many families would like a consistent calendar and one that coincides with the calendar at Mount Greylock Regional School.
 
Mount Greylock has not set its calendar for 2014-15.
 
Ellis said Wednesday night that Williamstown is not alone in trying to resolve thorny calendar issues generated by A) the current extended school year and B) the fact that Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Thursdays.
 
School Business Manager Lynn Bassett, left, briefs the School Committee.
"I could share with you marathon conversations about this are going on all over," Ellis said. "I can't remember the last time we had five snow days. I'm talking 10 years.
 
"Also the issue around [Dec.] 22nd and 23rd — I'm getting e-mails from other superintendents asking what we're doing."
 
In other business on Wednesday, the committee held a public hearing on the 2013-14 preliminary budget, which will be presented to the Williamstown Finance Committee on Thursday evening.
 
School officials anticipate a 2.5 percent increase in revenues from the town, but expenses are rising faster, driven largely by a 9.5 percent increase in health insurance costs.
 
Ellis and Business Manager Lynn Bassett told the committee on Wednesday that the school will be able to make up the budget gap by using "non-appropriated" revenue, such as school choice revenue and "revolver" funds like the account for building rentals. Many of those revolvers have been untapped for years and have grown sizable balances, Ellis reported last week.

Tags: fiscal 2015,   school budget,   school calendar,   snow days,   

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