SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Board of Education tackled two calendars at the regular May meeting on Monday night. They voted to change the controversial 2018-2019 calendar approved at the April meeting. They also had to amend the 2017-2018 calendar to accommodate the two emergency closures from the spring storm.
Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi acknowledged “there was angst, concern and upheaval because of the calendar and comments made by me. I apologize. I never meant to insult anyone.”
The calendar for next year would return spring break to the week following Good Friday, return Yom Kippur and return the start day for teachers to the Tuesday after Labor Day and first day for students to the Thursday after Labor Day, President’s Day would only be a three day weekend.
As the board got to the agenda, board member Jennifer Hamilton made a motion to change the order of the agenda, putting the two calendar issues at the top of business.
When discussion opened on the 2018=2019 calendar, board member Kim Bragg asked for the board to consider the language included on the calendar regarding how the district will deal with emergency closures if they exceed the build-in five days.
The calendar said the district would add days to the end of the school year, if the emergency closure days were used up.
Bragg said she wanted “excess snow days not to be added onto the end but removed from spring break.”
Reducing spring break had been the practice in the district for more than 10 years, until this current year.
Bragg said she did not want to “replicate what we have this year.” Bragg also said, “Educationally, students will get more out of a day or two in April rather than a half day at the end of June.” She proposed an amendment to the language on the calendar.
Board member Jack Surdoval said the prospect of having spring break cut would mean they would go “too long without a break.”
Board president Kelly McEvoy, a teacher in another district, said her district takes days away from spring break.
Board member Joanne Hoover, a teacher in Lenape Valley, said she has not “had a full spring break for three or four years.”
Hamilton said the reason the calendar had been changed last month was “to allow for a model where there was a break every six weeks,” but also acknowledged “no one wants to go to school as late as we are this year.”
Hamilton proposed changing the language to say if the snow days were used by President’s Day then any additional emergency closures would be taken from spring break, after President’s Day would be added to the end of the school year.
Hoover said, “You will never be able to control the weather.” She also said in her experience “when students say they will not be in school if spring break is cut, they are there. You hold a standard and a contract. It beats getting out on June 30.”
When Linda Curcio asked why this was being discussed at the beginning of the meeting, McEvoy said they changed the agenda because they “thought the public would like to hear and because we want to eliminate any ill will.”
Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi said this calendar was the “eighth or ninth version,” and there have been a lot of “discussions with board members and on campus.” He said his intention with the previously approved version was “meant to balance the type of breaks and the unnatural phenomenon of us in the U.S. having 75 days off in a row.”
He said, “My intent was never to upset or antagonize people.”
Eventually the board voted on the amended 2018-2019 calendar with the changed dates and a compromise about extra emergency closures. Next year, if the district exceeds the five snow days by March 1 then any additional days will be eliminated from spring break.
If the district exceeds the five emergency closures after March 1 then they will be added to the end of the school year.
Addressing the school closures that resulted from the power outages and downed trees and power lines, Rossi explained they had to be made up. The New Jersey Department of Education would not grant waivers citing a history of upholding the policy including after Superstorm Sandy.
He also said conducting a “digital distance learning” day would not work because the schools would have to be opened with staff in attendance.
“The only options are Saturdays,” Rossi said. They would be typical early dismissal, four-hour days, he said.
Rossi explained Memorial Day, Sparta Day and days when the high school facilities are contracted for use left the district with no choice but to go on June 23 and June 30. “Seniors will get an excused absence for Project Graduation,” Rossi said.
Additionally, seniors who have military or college commitments would also be excused.
Answering questions from the audience Rossi said the state would not allow school on Sundays or a split session where student would go to school and then return for a second session later in the day.
“This isn’t their first rodeo,” Rossi said.
The state did waive the requirement to have a certain percentage of students in the building to have it count toward the 180 day requirement.