Proposal to extend school year nixed by Mehlville board

Compensation top question by teachers, Catalana says

By Gloria Lloyd

The Mehlville Board of Education rejected a calendar suggested by board member Ron Fedorchak that would extend the school year while keeping the same number of school days, opting instead to keep the calendar the way it is.

Since Fedorchak was first appointed to the board in 2011, he has supported lengthening the school year.

The current Mehlville calendar has 174 student attendance days, the minimum required by Missouri, which has the fourth-shortest school year in the country.

This year, Fedorchak, who was elected to a three-year term in 2012, presented an alternate calendar with 174 days that would start school a week earlier and end it a week later to combat the “summer slump,” the months when students are not in school and forget some of what they learned the previous year. Students would get an entire week off for Thanksgiving.

The board rejected the plan 5-2, with Fedorchak and board Secretary Rich Franz voting in favor.

Instead, the board approved a plan recommended by the calendar committee that is similar to the current calendar 5-2, with Fedorchak and Franz opposed.

The past two years, Fedorchak has proposed an extended calendar with 180 days of instruction, which would push the Mehlville School District up to the national average. The state only funds the required 174 school days.

In math, students take six weeks to get up to speed on what they forgot over the summer, Fedorchak told the Call.

That makes it imperative for the board to do what it can for children living in poverty who may not have summer academic opportunities — and for all the district’s students, who live in a changing world that no longer has the well-paying unskilled jobs it once did, he noted.

“It’s a global marketplace, where we’re fighting for fewer and fewer jobs and fewer and fewer college opportunities,” Fed\orchak said. “So our schools better be improving constantly.”

Although the total number of days is the same as in the calendar recommended by the committee, Fedorchak’s proposal adds 16.5 hours of additional classroom time, since he eliminates monthly early release days.

Instead, teachers would be released early on their professional-development days.

Those changes mean money comes into play, said Human Resources Director Mark Catalana, citing concerns teachers had expressed to him about the alternate plan.

“It adds more teacher contract days, so the No. 1 question (teachers have) is compensation,” he said.

“You’re really not adding any more,” Fedorchak said. “You’re just getting a full day of education for the days that those kids are there. We went from eight half-days to four full days.”

Fedorchak’s proposal, developed in consultation with Catalana, lists 203 teacher contract days instead of the current 196.

Teacher contract days span the beginning of the school year to the end and include all the paid holidays in between. The Mehlville National Education Association, or MNEA, is currently in negotiations with the board over a new contract.

“You’re going to go to 203 contract days and still get 174 days of education, so you’ve increased your costs by 3.6 percent,” said board member Larry Felton. “I don’t think that’s negotiable — I think you’re changing the work load.”

“You’re spreading the work load,” said board member Kathleen Eardley, who noted that she liked the goal of the plan, but wanted to find out what parents thought about it before she could vote for it.

Parents already regularly protest that the school year starts too early in August, Superintendent Eric Knost noted, so he did not believe they would respond well to an even earlier date.

After several board members mentioned they wanted parent feedback on the idea, Fedorchak suggested postponing the calendar vote for a month while the district gathered opinions on the plan through a parent survey, as it did on whether to switch a half-day of school from June 2 to Good Friday this year.

After the vote, Fedorchak said that he would continue his efforts advocating for a longer calendar year.

“The only thing I’m disappointed with is that some of the members asked for a survey of the public ­— last time I checked, that’s what we were elected to do, is use our judgment,” he said. “It’s kind of a copout.”

During last year’s discussion to set the current calendar, other board members and Knost said they were open to a longer calendar for the 2014-2015 calendar year.

A committee led by Assistant Superintendent Lisa Counts examined whether adding a few days to the school year would impact student achievement and found that a longer school day would make a more significant impact.

Another of Fedorchak’s suggestions, building in potential snow makeup days earlier in the calendar in case of a winter with many snow days, was accepted by the board 7-0.

Fedorchak, the board’s sole representative on the district’s calendar committee, could not make the calendar committee’s meeting this year since it was rescheduled to take place while he was on a business trip, after being canceled because of a snow day.

He requested that future calendar meetings be held at night, when board representatives would be better able to attend.