Echo: Four-Day Week, Feb 12 2016

link off the chain
Alternative calendar talks have parents concluding a 4-day instruction week will be the new norm
by  Mary Lee – Comox Valley Echo

BC School District students enjoyed one less day of formal instruction this week thanks to a province-wide Family Day but could a four-day week become the norm for Comox Valley students?

Adopting an alternative calendar is not a new topic of discussion among Board Trustees. Since as early as May 2015 Trustees have discussed budgetary concerns and options of saving money through altering the school calendar.

Now with a growing amount of speculation by parents that a four-day week is on the horizon, decease the District Public Advisory Council is asking trustees what is the long term solution for the budget shortfall.

At the January 26 Regular Board Meeting, Trustee Janice Caton made a motion to formally turn talk into action.

“[I move] for senior management to commence a consultation process to look at the alternative instructional week and provide updates at subsequent board meetings.”

The motion was carried.

Caton cautions that a solution does not necessarily equate to a four-day week.

“There’s nothing written in stone …we need to hear what options are out there to best suit the needs of our district in these difficult educational budgetary times.”

A move to a four-day school week is widely viewed as a measure to close budget gaps Other school districts in BC have considered it or have already adopting it in effort to stop the budgetary bleeding, a situation resulting from the Liberal Governments Education Funding Model.

Okanagan-Similkameen is presently considering this option in the face of declining enrolment to avert cuts to program and services. Boundary School District 51 switched all of its schools to the four-day week during the 2001-2002 school year, a switch that helped stave off school closures, Superintendent Kevin Argue told CBC in a report last September.

SD71 anticipates a budget deficit of $2.2M for 2016 / 17 based on information they know today. Shortfalls are largely due to the projected declining enrolment, an increase in operational costs and an increase in employees’ salary and benefits.

Figures recently provided to Parent Advisory Councils (PAC) from Sheldon Lee, Acting Secretary Treasurer, reveal that the SD71 student population is anticipated to decline by 143 which translates into a reduction of $1,033,000 in basic funding. Salary and benefits increases for all employee groups will yield a combined increase of $1,276,000.

Parents are voicing concerns that budget implications will cost student’s another day of education and PACs have turned to social media to post detailed information on the pros and cons of four-day week.

“The impacts this would have on our children are huge. The kids will be losing out on valuable learning in the classroom, only to supposedly gain extra hours to an already long day,” expressed a parent who asked to remain unidentified. “This generation in many ways is already struggling to get the education needed to compete with the global economy for post secondary education and jobs; they do not need more cut backs.”

Nick Moore, Comox District Teachers’ Association (CDTA) President, concurs that the two most important components in education are the teachers and the students. Any change that reduces the number of teachers will result in a reduction in services to students.

“It’s just not possible to cut spending without hurting students,” shared Moore, adding the CDTA does not favor any changes that will see the elimination of teachers.

Moore explains there are really only three items where significant saving could be made:  changing the weekly schedule, eliminate busing or school closures.

“No other reductions will result in the savings needed to balance the budget next year without seriously affecting programs for students. “The CDTA would like to see significant administrative reductions made first before any other budget decisions are made.”

SD71 administration has already begun consultations with partner groups on options for an alternative calendar week.

“The culture in the district is to have management do work and then bring partner groups in for consultation. Partner groups such as the CDTA and parents are looking for a change. We want to be a part of those conversations from the start to help shape the work.”

The province sets the minimum hours of instruction for districts, but not the specific days of instruction for school calendars. According to the BC Ministry of Education School Act, the minimum amount of instruction hours that a board must offer students for the next two school year are 848 hours of instruction for students in kindergarten, 873 hours for grades 1 to 7 and 947 hours of instruction for students in grades 8 to 12. How those hours of instruction are arranged are determined by each district.

The school act also directs boards to consult with parents and with staff involving proposed changes or amendments to the school calendar.

Tom Demeo, Acting Superintendent, says conversation have already begun in the consultation process that will involve community engagement.

Demeo explains that to start the conversation administration had to first create a sample schedule to present to district principals and staff as a baseline. With staff feedback they can begin to shape a sample calendar week to present to the public.

“We will schedule public meetings for each of the communities to engage parents in a dialogue around options for an alternative instruction week and share the sample in hopes of encouraging others to share their ideas and thoughts, explains Demeo. “We need to begin with a starting point.”

Consultation into an alternative instructional week is expected to wrap up before the end of the current school year. A final decision on the upcoming school calendar will rest with the Board Trustees.

Dates on public meetings will be released on or before the next Regular Board Meeting, scheduled for February 23, and will be available on the district website.

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