Scottsdale district OKs early release for every Wednesday

The Scottsdale Unified School District governing board voted to have early release every Wednesday next year because of budget cuts.

The vote at a meeting Friday, April 11, was 5-0 to dismiss students in kindergarten through grade five at 1 p.m. every Wednesday instead of the usual release time if 3:15 p.m.

The district is facing a budget gap of more than $4 million and has proposed reducing art, music and physical education classes in grades kindergarten through five. The move, which would result in the elimination of about 30 teaching jobs, would save $1.5 million. Students would have those classes, known as “specials,” half as often.

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Now, students have either art, music or physical education every other day. Students have art every six days. Under the plan to reduce the classes, students would have a special every four days, so art would be every 12 days.

When students are at “specials,” classroom teachers use the time for preparation, as required in their contracts. With fewer “specials,” the prep time must be made up during the school day and the district proposed two options: reduce every school day by 20 minutes or have one early-release day per week. The teachers would use that time for prep.

The board had discussed the two options at its meeting on Tuesday, April 8, before taking the vote at a meeting on April 11.

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The principals favor having one early-release day per week, according to Katie Root, principal of Laguna Elementary School. Students could stay and use that time for after-school activities or tutoring. The activities would likely charge a fee but parents could pay using tax-credit money. Also, teachers could choose to make extra money by leading an after-school activity.

Some schools might qualify for grants to pay for the after-school activities.

Because the teachers had not weighed in yet, the board on April 8 asked the Scottsdale Education Association to survey them and report which option they preferred.

The board has not yet voted on cutting the specials, but it seems unlikely that the district will find another way to save $1.5 million.

Board president Bonnie Sneed said the members have heard from parents who wanted to know soon what the school schedule will be for next year.

The district likely will put an override on the ballot this fall. If voters pass it, the schools will get the additional revenue in 2015-16 and would restore the art, music and physical education classes.

Dave McNeil, executive director of elementary schools, said that even if specials are restored, the schools could keep the early-release day and teachers could use it for collaboration.

Many charter and district schools have regular early-release days, usually Wednesdays, for staff professional development.

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/04/11/scottsdale-district-to-decide-how-to-cut-school-day/7621595/