Cedar Rapids school makeup days to remain for now

Board also talks magnet schools

Published: February 25 2014 | 8:47 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:07 am in
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Cedar Rapids Community School District students will continue to go to school through June 12, for now. That much is certain following conversation during the school board’s Monday evening work session.

If Mother Nature hands administrators reason to cancel classes again – for the seventh time in the 2013-14 academic year – the future could include Saturday school for Cedar Rapids students.

“We’re going to plan to carry out the calendar as published,” said Superintendent Dave Benson.

Holding classes on Saturdays was the solution that garnered the most attention during the work session, during which Benson noted that legislative or Iowa Department of Education relief still remains unlikely. As scheduled, board members did not vote on a recommendation.

“It seems like a very doable thing,” said board Vice President Allen Witt. “I know that’s disruptive to people’s schedules, but if you give it enough lead time, we could get a handle on how many Saturdays we need.”

Benson suggested that the district could hold classes on every other Saturday for the last two months of the year, and that would allow students’ last day to remain June 6, which was the planned final day of school.

He also mentioned that those Saturdays could be early-release days, which do not have to be made up, and include professional development for staff.

Benson said that deviating from the current calendar, which has snow makeup days scheduled through June 13, in any way could incur “the law of unintended consequences.”

“If we do anything different, there will be individuals whose personal schedules will be affected,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t use Saturdays or spring break. It simply means there will be unintended consequences for individual families that have relied on our published calendar to make plans.”

Making students and staff attend classes on March 24 through March 28, the district’s spring break, didn’t gain much traction with board members. Benson also suggested that the board back away from making Saturday, March 29 a makeup day due to potential low attendance.

Board Member Keith Westercamp advocated sticking to the calendar but exploring other options if additional snow or cold days arise. Benson agreed and said it would be a “monumental problem” to have classes go into the third week of June, because of families’ commitments to camps and other summer activities.

School buses would run on those days just as they would during the week, Benson said, and the district would have to pay overtime to employees if the board opts to hold Saturday sessions. Board President Mary Meisterling requested an estimate of those costs.

All of these possibilities are contingent on additional canceled days, at which point Benson will create a recommendation to bring to the board for approval at that time.

Board Member Ann Rosenthal voiced her opposition to the suggested Saturday fix.

“My thoughts are just sticking with what we’ve published because that’s what we’ve planned on even though most people don’t think about those makeup days at the end of the year coming into play,” she said. “My least favorite (scenario) is Saturdays because our families and communities aren’t set up with the infrastructure to be here on Saturdays. … It’s not just trying to get those 16,000 kids here. It’s 3,000 employees.”

Magnet recommendations

Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering and local resident David Tominsky, one of 56 members of the district’s School Improvement Advisory Committee (which includes The Gazette Company CEO Chuck Peters), delivered a presentation of recommendations for future magnet programming.

Included for the 2014-15 school year include expanding the district’s Big Ideas Group (BIG) School – which The Gazette Company helps sponsor – into a half-day program for interested high school juniors and seniors and a pilot of 90 Roosevelt Middle School eighth-graders working with three teachers to explore projects similar to those done at the BIG School.

The committee devised criteria for future magnet schools but did not select buildings or themes for these programs. Pickering said the forecast includes district opening two magnet elementary schools in fall 2015, with Johnson School of the Arts and a science, technology, engineering and math school as likely candidates.

“Our magnet school expert who we’ve had come in said if you’re going to start one, start two. It gives parents more options,” Pickering said. “Eighteen months might seem like a long time to reconfigure a school for a magnet but it takes a lot of work and we’d like to get started quickly.”

Superintendent Benson said the fiscal year 2015 budget plan already includes set asides for professional development and other magnet-related costs.

Pickering said that support for the magnet school programming is also expected from an Iowa Department of Education Teacher Leadership and Compensation System planning grant. All 346 state school districts have applied for the funds and recipients are set to be announced in early March.

“That will pay real dividends in moving us forward,” Benson said.

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