When Jeffco school board President Scott Benefield told parents at the Aug. 21 meeting that “We all want a later start,” he set the stage for a real conversation about when school should start.
During the fall of 2003, parents from across Jefferson County worked to convince the school district’s calendar committee that starting school the second week of August was too early. After much discussion, the start date was pushed back to the fourth Monday in August for three years. When the calendar committee was reconvened to set the calendar for the three years beginning this fall, people who had argued for a later start date in 2003 assumed their earlier work would carry over. They were surprised and disappointed when it was announced that school in Jefferson County would start Aug. 12.
The three highest profile issues have been when school should start, whether there should be a mini-break in October and whether first-semester finals are administered before winter break. Teachers (especially high school teachers) have argued effectively that an October break is important for students and teachers. There is also consensus that finishing the first semester before the break is beneficial.
After the Aug. 12 start date was announced last year, Evergreen and Conifer area residents took advantage of district policy allowing alternative calendars and petitioned for a later start date. Superintendent Cindy Stevenson crafted a solution that started school a week later while maintaining the mini-break and finishing before Christmas.
The calendar committee has been reconvened. While that is a good start, the board of education should take more ownership. While there are times that depoliticizing an issue is beneficial, we live in a representative democracy and when an issue is as important to as many people as this one is, elected officials should maximize their involvement. Additionally, the calendar should be part of a broader conversation than the calendar committee is authorized to have. With the huge increases in the price of gas, the cost of transporting kids to school should lead the board to look at whether a calendar of fewer days that last longer makes sense to allow more resources to be utilized in the classroom as part of a broader policy discussion.
In the last five years, a variety of district employees have said only the mountain area dislikes the early start. In 2003, there were supporters of a later start from throughout the county. While only Evergreen and Conifer took advantage of the alternative calendar option for this year, interest in a later start date exists throughout the county. In any event, Jefferson County residents who are concerned about when school starts should express their opinions to the board, the superintendent and the calendar committee as soon as they can.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.