Education

Sacramento City Unified delays plan for earlier start of fall semester

Historically, Sacramento City Unified has had one of the latest start dates among local districts. Jade Thomas, 15, a junior at George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, goes over study material before she takes the PSAT test on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif.
Historically, Sacramento City Unified has had one of the latest start dates among local districts. Jade Thomas, 15, a junior at George Washington Carver School of Arts and Science, goes over study material before she takes the PSAT test on Wednesday, October 14, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. rpench@sacbee.com

Students in the Sacramento City Unified School District will not start their school year any earlier next fall after trustees delayed a proposal to open on par with other districts in mid-August.

District officials have considered an earlier school opening for a number of years. Advancing the start time by about two weeks would improve the district’s competition in finding and making job offers to new teachers, advocates say. That’s expected to become especially important in the next several years as districts brace for projected teacher shortages.

Critics, however, say the change could also affect family plans for vacations or child care. The district also did not reach agreement with teachers on moving up the start date.

On Thursday night district trustees voted 5-1, with Trustee Diana Rodriguez opposed, to start the fall semester on Sept. 1, two days before Labor Day weekend. Trustee Jay Hansen was absent, vacationing in Peru.

Historically, Sacramento City Unified has had one of the latest start dates among area districts. This fall, for the first time in recent memory, the district advanced classes to several days before Labor Day and began laying the groundwork for more change in subsequent years.

The district held a series of community meetings in recent months and an online survey that drew nearly 2,800 responses. Families of high school-age students tended to favor the earlier start date. Those with children in grades K-8 offered less support, or about 48 percent, according to survey results.

In a letter to staff members Thursday, Superintendent José Banda expressed disappointment that district negotiators did not reach agreement with the Sacramento City Teachers Association on moving the 2016 school start to August.

“We remain committed to continuing to meet with SCTA leadership about moving up the start of the school year in 2017-18,” Banda wrote.

Nikki Milevsky, SCTA president, said Friday that the association anticipated last spring that “maybe we could get an agreement together to change next year’s (2016’s) calendar.” But, she said, “when it gets to be December, we’re cutting it pretty close.”

“There is a lot of debate throughout the district about the calendar,” she said, “involving the community, parents, teachers and district leadership. We think that giving adequate notice would help a lot in adjusting to change. That is our main point.”

The SCTA and the district are in the second year of a two-year contract that ends June 30. They have returned to the table to reconsider the 2015-16 compensation package as a result of additional funds from the state. In the spring, the two sides are due to begin talks on a new contract.

We think that giving adequate notice would help a lot in adjusting to change. That is our main point.

Nikki Milevsky, president, Sacramento City Teachers Association

Trustee Ellen Cochrane said it’s likely the school calendar will be changed to mid-August for the 2017-18 school year, better aligning with other districts in the area.

“I’m all for it,” she said. “I know it’s going to happen. It’s just a question of working out the details.”

In other districts, earlier start dates are well established. For example, middle schools, high schools and about a third of the elementary schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District are on traditional attendance tracks and will start school Aug. 11.

In the San Juan Unified School District, schools start Aug. 18. And the Folsom Cordova Unified School District starts its fall classes on Aug. 9.

Based on incorrect information from the district, an earlier version of this story erred in reporting trustee votes as 6-0. The vote was 5-1, with Trustee Diana Rodriguez opposed.

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