The Katonah-Lewisboro school board has left intact a long-planned four-day weekend on the district’s February calendar.
The popular winter break, traditionally a time of mini-vacations, campus visits and other pursuits, had been in peril ever since Hurricane Sandy blew away a week’s worth of school days in late October. After extended negotiations, school officials and the district’s three collective-bargaining units had agreed to use Feb. 18 and 19—the erstwhile four-day weekend’s back half—as makeup days, recouping both lost classroom time and thousands of dollars in state aid.
Accordingly, the school board had scheduled a vote to ratify that deal at Thursday’s regular meeting. But a number of parents, it was understood, had protested the decision in a barrage of emails. Thursday, those parents hit the beach, in effect, forming part of a standing-room-only crowd at John Jay High School.
Board President Mark Lipton sought to put off voting on the new calendar, which eliminated the two holiday dates. “I feel that we should not make a change that we may not need to make,” Lipton said. He argued that the extra time off in February, scheduled since last spring, should be scrapped only “as a last resort,” if future school days are lost to weather.
But in moving to set aside consideration of the calendar change, Lipton met persistent resistance from two board members: Trustee Marjorie Schiff, who feared the academic effect on students of losing still more class time, and Trustee Stephanie Tobin, who agreed with Schiff and who pointed out the statistical likelihood of further weather-related closings. They pressed for a vote on the revised, no-winter-break calendar. When it came, theirs were the lone yea votes in the resolution’s 5-2 defeat.
The matter could be resurrected if the district loses two days to snow or other emergencies between now and Feb. 18, but Lipton considered that unlikely. This month’s forecast remains free of snow, he pointed out, and in February, only school-closing accumulations that arrived at night and during the week would threaten state aid, since Albany overlooks late openings and early dismissals caused by weather.
New York’s school districts are required to conduct classes on at least 180 days to qualify for state aid, which in the Katonah-Lewisboro district amounts to about $25,000 a day, or a net after expenses of some $17,000. In April 2012, the district adopted its current calendar, which called for 180 student days, four staff-development (SD) days, when classes normally are not scheduled, and, among other things, a four-day weekend next month. But in late October, Sandy thundered into town, blowing out a week’s worth of schooling and reducing the district’s calendar to 175 student days. Even using the SD days for classes, which Albany permits, the calendar remained a non-conforming 179 days.
School officials held classes on Election Day, but that was one of the SDs. So while it provided “valuable instructional time,” said Scott Persampieri, the assistant superintendent for human resources, “it didn't help us in the count.”
Instead, by cashing in two so-called “weather reserve” days, already baked into the schedule, the district cobbled together a 181-day calendar. That created, as more than one trustee pointed out Thursday, a razor-thin cushion that would allow schools to close for one snow day this winter, but not for two.
Editor's note: This story originally stated the vote was "surprising," and "contrary to expectations," however, we have revised the copy to reflect that the board did not make their positions on any calendar changes known prior to Thursday night's meeting.