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Bemidji School Board contemplates school calendar

It's an issue that has been raised almost every year - what should the Bemidji Schools calendar look like?

The Bemidji Area School Board of Education met on Monday evening to discuss three options for the 2010-11 school year, with the biggest issue being whether to add a spring break.

The school board voted 6-1 to approve the first reading of an option that includes 172 student days and 182 teacher days. The school year would start on Sept. 7 and end on June 9. Spring break would be from March 7-11.

Each year the school board sets a school calendar for the following year, based on initial recommendations from a committee made up of leadership from the Bemidji Education Association and the district.

Over the past four years the school district has been operating on a calendar schedule that includes a spring break every other year.

"We had 50 percent who wanted it and 50 percent who didn't want it," said Superintendent Jim Hess. "So, we compromised."

While having a spring break can mean sleep-in days and trips to warmer states for some students, ultimately it lengthens the school year.

"I'm not going to vote for a calendar with a spring break," said school board member Steven Johnson. "I think in our economic climate right now, not as many people are taking vacations. Those that can afford it, they'll plan on a spring break anyway. It's also hard to find child care when school's out. I think school should get out earlier in June so kids can get to work."

Hess recommended that the 2010-11 school calendar begin after Labor Day, as currently mandated by the state.

"There is legislation in the works to give school districts the choice of starting classes before Labor Day, but until then, it's a safer bet starting after Labor Day," Hess said.

Typically, graduation day has landed on the closest Saturday to Memorial Day, letting seniors out about two weeks before the last day of school. But, this, too, has caused concerns.

"In some classes, a good portion of the class is gone when seniors leave for the year and it affects the other students in the class," said school board member John Pugleasa.

There is also the issue of teachers who have a heavy senior schedule and how they spend their time without students.

"There are good, rational arguments for both points," Hess said of deciding on the school calendar.

Two other calendar options were provided in the school board agenda on Monday evening.

The second option included 172 students and 180 teacher days, but included mandatory teacher days of 600 minutes in Professional Learning Communities. This option starts the school year on Sept. 7 and ends on June 7. It also reserves March 7-11 for spring break.

"In this option, professional workshop days would be traded for Professional Learning Communities days," Hess said.

The third option starts the school year on Sept. 7 and limits the spring break from March 11-14. However, the school year would end on June 3. This option would have 172 student days and 182 teacher days.

"This third option steps outside of what past practice has been," Hess said.

The school board asked Bemidji High School student representatives Jade Hovet and Forrest Guilfoile to collect feedback from the student body on spring break and when the last day of school falls. The students were asked to present their findings at the March school board meeting.