Fairfield Ledger

Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 24, 2014

Fairfield schools to start Sept. 2 next fall

By DIANE VANCE | Jan 21, 2014

The Fairfield Community School District will begin next school year at the state’s start date, Sept. 2, which is the Tuesday after Labor Day.

It is the first time in several years the district has not applied for a waiver to the state to begin school earlier than the state’s start date.

The six school board members present at Monday’s meeting voted unanimously to approve the Sept. 2 start date after viewing three calendar options and hearing comments during a public hearing. Board member Kate Van Pelt was absent.

The three options were:

• Requires district waiver from state: Begin school Wednesday, Aug. 27 and end June 4, 2015. Holidays would include Labor Day, Thanksgiving Nov. 27-28, winter break Dec. 22-Jan. 2, Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 19, spring break March 30-April 3, and Memorial Day. This calendar would have 179 school instruction days or 1,096.89 hours with built-in snow days.

• Requires district waiver from state: Begin school Wednesday, Aug. 20 and end May 29, 2015. Holidays would include Labor Day, Thanksgiving Nov. 27-28, winter break Dec. 22 – Jan. 2, no school end of semester - Jan. 14, spring break March 23-27, and Memorial Day. This calendar would have 180 instruction days or 1,103.9 hours.

• The calendar approved: Begin school Sept. 2 and end June 5, 2015. Holidays will include Thanksgiving Nov. 27-28, winter break Dec. 24-Jan. 2, Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 19, spring break March 30-April 3, and Memorial Day. This has 178 instruction days or 1,092.15 instructional hours.

The calendar will continue with late start Wednesdays and a student day off from school at the end of the quarters.

Iowa law changed from requiring 180 days of student instruction to schools providing 1,080 hours of instruction per school year or 180 days, and the day counts only if students are in school a minimum of six hours.

“Most districts are tracking hours, and that’s what we’ll be doing,” said Superintendent Art Sathoff. “But we’ll be counting days for teacher contracts.

“I am willing to work with any of the three calendar options,” he told board members during the public hearing. “Because of construction at Fairfield High School, I’d like to go with starting Sept. 2.”

Sathoff said volleyball coach Nancy Diers could not attend Monday’s public hearing, but had written comments about the calendar choices.

Sathoff read aloud Diers’ comments, which said in part: “As a coach, I don’t like the later start date, so many athletic practices start at the beginning of August.

“I feel students are more willing to be in class in August than in June.”

Parent Carolyn Kessel addressed the school board at the public hearing.

“I have two students in the district, and one who graduated. Previously my kids went to a Christian school which never started before Labor Day,” said Kessel. “I’m in favor of the Sept. 2 start. In the past, with my older child, the timing of the state fair was a factor, also.”

Rustin Lippincott spoke, as a parent of a high school student athlete and an elementary student, and as executive director of Fairfield Iowa Convention & Visitors Bureau. He favored the Sept. 2 start date.

“As president of Iowa Destination Marketing Alliance, we’ve done lots of research in school start dates,” he said. “Iowa’s waivers [to begin school earlier than the state’s start date] have a negative impact on tourism and a financial impact on our communities.

“Shortening the travel season means less taxes from visitors staying in hotels and eating at restaurants.”

Lippincott also pointed out that August start dates contribute to early dismissals for heat. He said students working summer jobs are limited when school begins early.

“The travel industry in a federal survey found 78.6 percent of voters believed school should start in late August or later,” he said.

Sathoff said though money was not a motivating factor, going with the Sept. 2 calendar option, with 178 days versus 180 days, will save the district $18,000 in salaries.

Board member Jerry Nelson said he hadn’t heard any negative comments from the community about starting Sept. 2.

“I think because of construction at the high school, we should go with the later date,” he said.

Construction for the FHS renovation/addition will begin this spring with the most disruptive work planned for the next two summers. A later school start date gives the construction workers more days to work before school begins.

“I don’t have a big problem with it [Sept. 2 start date] but I’ve never liked it,” said board member Joe Carr. “Like Nancy [Diers] said, people are ready to get back to work by August — and the thing with athletes … the beginning practice date was moved a week earlier a few years back, so that means there will be a month between beginning football practice and beginning of school.”

A few football games may be played before school starts.

“But I am willing to vote for the Sept. 2 calendar,” said Carr.

Board president Jennifer Anderson said this was the perfect opportunity to try a later start.

“With construction going on, this year is a good time to try it,” she said. “I like the flow of the semester with this option and I like when spring break falls.”

The week’s length of spring break was mentioned and Sathoff said it was a negotiated item in the teachers’ master contract. If the spring break was shortened, the district could start Sept. 2 and dismiss earlier than June 5.

“We have to submit our calendar to the state by March this year and we won’t be through negotiations by then,” said Sathoff. “It is something we can look into if you want. But the next year’s calendar [2015-2016] will be due to the state in November.

“The teachers I heard from were glad to see the first and third options started school in two different weeks, but the later start only dismissed one day later than the Aug. 27 start,” he said.

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