A balanced calendar with a shortened summer break is in store for the 2012-13 school year, but it’s not the version that called for students to attend class in July, a plan that would have required $20 million in unidentified funds.
Instead, surprising many, the nine-member Metro Nashville Board of Education voted 5-4 Tuesday against a hotly debated proposal to start school July 25 before unanimously adopting a less far-reaching balanced calendar that begins school next year on Aug. 1.
"It doesn’t seem to be much ‘bang for the buck,’ so to speak,” board member Mark North said of increasing the schools’ budget to accommodate the July start. He voted against doing so.
“It’s like an unfunded mandate,” board member Kay Simmons said prior to voting against the July option. “We would be saying this is what we want to do, but we don’t know where the money’s coming from.”
The newly adopted calendar increases students’ school days from 173 to 176. The alternative July 25 option –– pushed by education, parent and Hispanic advocacy groups to combat lost learning over the summer –– would have brought the total days to 180 and set aside 10 additional days for the professional development of teachers. Hence, it required supplementary dollars.
But in the end, the majority of board members found it troublesome to ask Mayor Karl Dean and the Metro Council for $20 million in extra funds when they hadn’t sensed a consensus of support from the community.
“I firmly believe in more time on task [for students],” board member Michael Hayes said. “It’s also hard for me to justify or think about school starting in July. That’s a hard one for me to get my arms around.”
With the adopted calendar, longer fall and spring breaks are built in to accommodate the shortened summer recess. So-called “intersession periods” are in the fall and spring, allowing students to receive enrichment opportunities if they choose. The alternative July start carved out a longer fall intersession.
It’s too strong to call the board’s decision to strike down the July calendar a loss for Director of Schools Jesse Register, who had made the case Tennessee is lagging far behind other states and nations in terms of instruction time. He has said economically disadvantaged and non-English speaking students are hurt the most my long summer breaks.
Still, Tuesday’s outcome doesn’t seem to be an unequivocal win either.
Leading up to Tuesday’s vote, Register had openly discussed a scenario whereby he would recommend the board adopt the $20 million balanced calendar, and approve the Aug. 1 calendar as a “fallback” if funding weren’t made available next spring. Oddly, he did nothing of the sort Tuesday, and only asked the board to recommend either balanced calendar –– that, board members did.
“There are no guarantees,” Register said Tuesday. “There are no guarantees when you go to a balanced calendar or when you go to more time. Success depends on how wisely we use the time.”
The board’s decision to shoot down the July 25 option came after an hour-plus debate.
Making the most impassioned plea for calendar that required additional funds was longtime board member Ed Kindall, who represents some of the district’s most poverty-stricken schools.
“We’ve got to do something,” Kindall said. “I’ve been on the board almost 27 years and, I don’t want to say it, but we ain’t done nothing to change the achievement gap. Statistics show that.
“We worry about money, but if we ask for it and don’t get it, we can still go forward,” he said.
But Hayes, who represents Green Hills, said he received 400 emails against a balanced calendar and very few for it. West Nashville’s Simmons agreed that most of her constituent feedback was negative.
Board member Cheryl Mayes unleashed some of the strongest skepticism of the proposed July start, pointing out few parents and teachers took part in a survey they revealed virtually split results. She also expressed concerns about costs and warned of a public pushback.
“We’re going to get a lot of feedback from people who want to understand how we could come up with an additional $20 million to support a balanced calendar when we can’t give our support staff the raises they so truly deserve,” Mayes said.
How they voted on the balanced calendar proposal to start school July 25, requiring $20 million in additional funds:
Yea: Gracie Porter, JoAnn Brannon, Anna Shepherd, Ed Kindall
No: Sharon Gentry, Cheryl Mayes, Mark North, Michael Hayes, Kay Simmons