Despite assurances that a decision was at least three weeks away, the Blaine County School District board of trustees voted anyway Tuesday night to not start school next year until after the Labor Day weekend in September.
The vote was 5-0. The action did not approve a new school calendar but only established a start date for the 2012-13 school year and perhaps beyond.
In its own literature, posted on its website and in the BCSD Weekly Update, the district promised that no decision on the calendar would be made Tuesday. Instead, the BCSD Weekly Update stated that "public input will be gathered for three weeks after the [Tuesday] meeting before the board of trustees makes a decision on the calendar."
The meeting agenda didn't even list the issue as an action item. Instead the issue was listed as "information only."
Nonetheless, the decision to not start school until September seemed to be in accord with what the public wants. Board Clerk Laurie Kaufman told the trustees that 106 comments had been emailed to the district and only two requested a start before Labor Day weekend.
The issue of changing the school start date arose within the past month after some school principals suggested to administrators that starting school in August could give students more time to prepare for a myriad of state-required achievement tests.
Superintendent Lonnie Barber told the board that somehow a rumor circulated in the public that a decision for an earlier start had already been made, when in fact it hadn't and was only being considered.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, the district was looking at three options for starting school. The first would maintain the post-Labor Day status quo, while the other two would have changed the start date to either the last week or the second to last week of August.
For the past two years, the school board has approved single-year calendars, but is now considering approving calendars for three years.
The request to approve a start date came from Barber, who told the board that establishing a date now would facilitate the work of a calendar committee, composed of administrators, teachers and parents, which is working to fine-tune future calendars to establish teacher collaboration and in-service days, vacations and holidays, and semester or trimester start and end dates.
"If the board can give us a direction, even a start date, that will help us out," Barber said.
The vote followed a lengthy board discussion about public sentiment on the issue and how establishing a start date would benefit the calendar committee. However, not discussed were prior school district assurances that a vote would not be taken until the regular school board meeting in March.
Only Trustee Kathryn Graves expressed any reservations about voting on the issue at Tuesday's meeting, noting that this year's calendar was approved much later last year and suggesting that a three-week delay might be prudent.
In an interview, Graves declined to elaborate on her hesitation. Calls to board Chair Steve Guthrie and Trustee Shawn Bennion were not returned by press deadline Thursday.
Board Vice Chair Don Nurge and Trustee Paul Bates defended the board vote in interviews Wednesday, noting that a three-week delay would not likely change the outcome.
"I think as a board we felt that was the way to go," Nurge said. "The calendar committee had asked for direction and stated that it would be helpful if we could give them a start date."
"The idea was let's move forward," Bates said. "I don't see it as breaking a promise—I see it as correcting an incorrect decision. The feeling was that the work needs to start and there seemed to be consensus to give the people doing the work the timeframe to start with."
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Blaine County School District board of trustees has scheduled a work session for Wednesday, Feb. 29, from 12-1:30 p.m. at the district office at 118 W. Bullion St. in Hailey. The purpose of the meeting is identified as "BCSD programs and facilities audit." The public is welcome to attend.