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April 17, 2014

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School District decision on 9-month schools likely Wednesday

Potential benefits of traditional school calendar

  • In addition to $13 million in savings in personnel and operating costs, the district would save another $7 million in support services such as transportation and special education.
  • School maintenance would be reduced because of less wear and tear on facilities, and it would be easier to schedule major repairs.
  • Many parents prefer to have all their children on the same academic calendar, so older siblings can keep an eye on the younger ones. This might be particularly true for struggling families looking for work, or where day care costs have become prohibitive.
  • The problem of air conditioning failures at schools in the summer — a common occurrence, particularly at older campuses — would be solved.
  • Some campuses might be able to offer summer institutes, with programs for both remedial students and those seeking enrichment and accelerated learning.

A decision is expected Wednesday on which Clark County School District year-round elementary campuses will switch to nine-month calendars for the 2010-11 school year.

The move is part of a cost-cutting push the district hopes will save $15 million to $20 million in personnel and operating expenses.

Based on changes in enrollment, the district had planned to convert 21 of its 76 year-round schools to nine-month calendars in August. But the School Board voted this month to sidestep regulations, including counting portable classrooms as “regular” seats, to allow more campuses to make the change.

Also making the shift possible will be an increase in class sizes for grades 1-3, approved by the Legislature during the special session as a cost-saving measure.

Many parents have spoken in favor of nine-month calendars at recent School Board meetings, arguing that the year-round schedules hurt participation in extracurricular activities and family vacations.

Nearly all of the year-round campuses have requested to convert, district officials said.

The move could make it easier for the district to schedule professional development for staff, prepare students for state-mandated testing and reduce transportation and special education costs. On the downside, the legislative waiver allowing increased class sizes expires in 2011, and once it does the district would likely have to revert to year-round calendars at many campuses unless lawmakers approved an extension.

Some studies nationally have found that year-round programs are preferable for English-language learners, who account for about 20 percent of the district’s students, because they benefit from continued instruction without a long summer break.

However, there is no significant difference in test scores among the district’s year-round and nine-month campuses — both have standout programs as well as struggling schools.

One campus contemplating conversion is Hollingsworth Elementary near downtown Las Vegas, where more than 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and 70 percent are English-language learners. Principal Diana Cockrell held two meetings with parents to discuss the possible shift and found families were overwhelmingly in favor of it.

“Not only does it save money, but it would benefit kids to have more opportunities to prepare for testing and not lose focus when they have track breaks,” Cockrell said. “Parents all see the benefit of keeping all of the children in one household on the same calendar.”

Shomari Williams, who has four children attending Hollingsworth, said he’s in favor of the calendar change. He thinks it would be better for teachers, save the district money and improve student achievement. It would also address a major ongoing challenging — keeping the students from overheating when they play outdoors during the blazing Las Vegas summer.

Another factor for Hollingsworth — 25 percent of the students qualify as homeless and receive services through the district’s outreach program. “Are they going to be fed, are they going to be cared for, are they going to have a consistent adult presence in their life over the summer?” Cockrell asked. “At this point, I don’t know the answers to those questions.”

Cockrell — and the district — have some time to prepare, as the changes wouldn’t take effect until August. District officials say they will work with other organizations to provide outreach during the summer months to fill in the gaps.

Additionally, schools serving large numbers of at-risk students are eligible for federal Title I funding for summer sessions, which would include meals and transportation, School Board President Terri Janison said.

“Obviously we don’t want any kids to fall through the cracks,” Janison said. “With the community’s help I believe we’ll be able to cover them.”

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