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SEE YOU IN COURT! - July/August 2014

CABE Journal

July/August 2014

Setting the school calendar has always been a challenge for the Nutmeg Board of Education. Whatever calendar the Board would discuss, someone would be unhappy. Board members tried to avoid controversy by dealing the issue over several meetings, but the discussion would always end with rancorous debate.

Mr. Chairperson vowed that this year would be different. He appointed a calendar committee, which included teachers, administrators, parents and Board members, to come up with the perfect calendar for 2015-2016. Mysteriously, Mr. Chairperson appointed veteran Board member Bob Bombast to chair the committee.

Bob enthusiastically accepted the appointment. Before the first meeting, Bob sent an email to each of the committee members describing his thinking on the subject, but he never heard a word back from anyone. Miffed that the committee members ignored his email, Bob started the meeting by listing the ideas he had shared in his email – start school after Labor Day to give families the full summer to bond, bring teachers back for professional development during the summer when they are refreshed after some time off, and start the February vacation on Thursday every year so that Nutmeg parents can save money on plane tickets to Disneyworld. Before Bob could elaborate on his thinking, however, Mal Content, President of the Nutmeg Union of Teachers, came into the meeting room and sat down right in front.

“I am sorry, Mal,” Bob said pointedly. “This is a private meeting. When we have decided on a school calendar, you will be the first to know. Buh-bye!”

“Not so fast!” responded Mal. “This is a public meeting, and I am not leaving.” With that, Mal settled in, daring Bob and the committee to challenge him. Bob looked at the other committee members, who all just stared back blankly. Bob decided that removing Mal was not worth the trouble, so he decided simply to ignore Mal. But peace did not last.

Bob described his “vision” for the school calendar, including his view that teachers should come back for professional development in the summer. When Mal heard that, he interrupted vehemently, telling Bob and the committee that that would never happen. “Mal, you are not on this committee, and I must warn you that you will be removed if there is another outburst,” Bob warned. But Mal just muttered something about unfair labor practice and stormed out. With Mal gone, things quieted down, and the committee discussed Bob’s three-year proposal for the school calendar.

One of the other committee members asked Bob how Nutmeg could set such a calendar, asking “Isn’t there a law forcing us to have a uniform regional calendar?”

Bob smiled dismissively. “Don’t worry about that. The General Assembly postponed the law once already, and I wouldn’t count on that law ever taking effect.” With that, the committee completed its work, voting unanimously to recommend Bob’s proposed calendars for the next three school years, including summer professional development for teachers and an expanded February vacation every year.

The proposed calendars are on the agenda for the next meeting of the Nutmeg Board of Education. Do you envision any problems if the Board of Education adopts the committee’s recommendations?
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Under current law, Bob’s proposal is a non-starter. In 2013, the General Assembly passed Public Act 13-247, “An Act Implementing Provisions of the State Budget for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2015 Concerning General Government.” Tucked into this 498-page public act are Sections 321 and 322, which established a Uniform Regional School Calendar Task Force to establish guidelines for school calendars. The law charged the regional educational service centers with the task of developing uniform calendars for their regions in accordance with the guidelines established by the Task Force, and it required school districts to adopt a uniform regional school calendar starting with the 2015-2016 school year.

The legislation also established guidelines for such uniform regional calendars:

Such guidelines for a uniform regional school calendar shall include, but not be limited to, (1) at least one hundred eighty days of actual school sessions during each school year, (2) a uniform start date, (3) uniform days for professional development and in-service training for certified employees, pursuant to sections 10-148a and 10-220a of the general statutes, and (4) not more than three uniform school vacation periods during each school year, not more than two of which shall be a one week school vacation period and one of which shall be during the summer.

The Task Force issued its report last January, and among its recommendations are (1) that the calendar include two uniform professional development days and five flexible days, (2) that the calendar include three vacation periods, (3) that school start within three days of the last Wednesday in August, (4) that the deadline for implementation be delayed until 2016-2017, and (5) that where contract(s) make implementation in 2016-2017 impossible, that districts may delay until 2017-2018. The RESCs have developed calendars in accordance with these guidelines, and the State Board of Education approved these calendars last month.

In Public Act 14-38, the General Assembly amended the law (now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 10-66q) in accordance with the recommendations of the Task Force (1) to delay the required adoption of the uniform school calendar to the 2016-2017 school year, and (2) to permit school boards to delay implementation of the uniform school calendar until 2017-2018 if they have a collective bargaining agreement that makes adoption of the uniform calendar in 2016-2017 “impossible.”
Bob’s proposed calendar also raises a significant point that has had little discussion. Under the Teacher Negotiation Act, boards of education have the unilateral right to set the student school year (bargaining, if necessary, only over the impact of changes). However, the school calendar includes teacher work days, including professional development days, when students are not in attendance. Typically, the scheduling of these days have to be negotiated, but scheduling professional development on days designated on the uniform school calendar may be an exception to the rule. In any event, Bob’s bright idea of bringing teachers back in the summer is clearly subject to negotiation (and clearly doomed).

Finally, for once the Nutmeg Board did not violate the Freedom of Information Act. The Board was correct in permitting Mal to attend the meeting, which was indeed public. Moreover, despite Bob’s best efforts to conduct an illegal meeting by email to discuss his plans, his email was fine because the committee members did not respond. All was well since they did not “discuss” his plan outside of a meeting.

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