Sacramento City Unified, which traditionally opens its school year after Labor Day and has the latest start date among local districts, will open classrooms on Sept. 3, before the national holiday, for the first time in recent memory.
The start could be moved earlier in the next few years to mid-August in a bid to become more competitive with other large area districts such as San Juan and Elk Grove unified. The earlier start allows those districts to extend job offers sooner, according to Sacramento City Unified officials.
“If you’re a great young graduate of Sacramento State and you’re looking at different school districts, and Elk Grove offers you a job a month before Sac City offers you a position, you’re not going to sit around and wait to see if the other job comes through,” said Sacramento City Unified spokesman Gabe Ross.
Early reactions are mixed.
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“At first, it was a little shocking because we’ve always had our classes start after Labor Day,” said Otis Cross, PTA president at Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 school in the Pocket area. “So that’s the holiday when we actually spend our last time together as a family. So I’m definitely going to have to look at our schedule and figure out how to move things around to accommodate this.”
For years, the Sacramento district has been the holdout on changing its school calendar. Other districts such as Twin Rivers, Folsom Cordova and San Juan have started their instruction around mid-August, two to three weeks earlier. The change was so prevalent that California State Fair directors moved their annual event to July instead of August starting in 2010 to accommodate the school shift.
“Three days is not going to make a significant difference overnight,” Ross said. But the hope is to move earlier and earlier, he said, until the schedule better aligns with the other large districts.
Ross said the topic has been discussed for years. But there were few opportunities to negotiate a change while the recession was in full force.
“Changing some of the things like calendars is more difficult when you’re trying to make hard choices around teacher layoffs and furlough days,” he said. “It complicates the conversation.”
Ross said there are other reasons besides the hiring edge motivating the shift. If school starts in mid-August, he said, students will be able to take their semester finals ahead of the two-week winter break rather than after the holiday vacation.
The change also would allow for more study time ahead of the new state testing in the second semester, he said. And Sacramento City Unified officials believe it would give their district a better shot at attracting students.
“We’re really focusing on how to make our schools, our district, really appealing and competitive with all the options that parents and kids have,” Ross said. “We don’t want Sac City to be an afterthought. We want it to be at the forefront of minds and options.”
Nikki Milevsky, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said her members are already working with the district on future calendars.
Anna Molander, a parent who unsuccessfully ran last year for district trustee, said she’s not happy.
“This is yet another opportunity where they could have been proactive and, instead, they’re inviting people to leave the district,” Molander said Thursday.
Traditionally, school calendars are posted several years ahead. The calendar, Molander said, “should be the first thing they should get right every year. It’s evidence that there is some major dysfunction.”
Ross said adopting several years of school calendars is the goal “so we know years out when the first day of school is.” The board unanimously approved the 2015-16 school calendar at the April 9 meeting, without discussion.
Trustee Christina Pritchett said she’s happy with the choice. “I think this has been an ongoing issue of competing with other districts for teachers,” she said.
But Trustee Jay Hansen voiced frustration this week after hearing from constituents who are unhappy about the change.
“Nobody is pleased about the start date happening before the Labor Day weekend; nor was I,” he said. Hansen could not be reached Thursday night to explain his vote for the change on the April 9 consent calendar.
Ross said the district has been proactive, sending emails to parents and providing schools with a letter from the superintendent to send home.
Some schools are calling families, putting notices in newsletters and on their marquees. The district plans to notify incoming kindergartners in the weeks ahead, Ross said. The district is using Facebook and Twitter to get out the word. And it has been on the district website for several weeks.
Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.
First day of student attendance, 2015-16
Folsom Cordova Unified: Aug. 11
Natomas Unified: Aug. 12
Elk Grove Unified: Traditional school starts Aug. 13. Year-round tracks begin a month earlier.
San Juan Unified: Aug. 13
Twin Rivers Unified: Aug. 20
Sacramento City Unified: Sept. 3