SAD 61 vacation days become school days

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Local students can scratch March 6 and April 17 as vacation days.

The two Fridays were initially vacation dates in SAD 61, but due to the high number of cancellations due to bad weather this winter, school will be in session.

Trying to keep Lake Region High School’s graduation on track for June 14, the School Board Monday night voted to alter the calendar.

The board also decided that if bad weather forces any other cancellations, students will be required to attend school on the Saturday of that week; it would be a half day.

The last day of school for middle school and elementary students is now Monday, June 22. By law, seniors must attend 170 school days while middle and elementary school students must attend 175 days. Teachers are contracted for 182 days.

District officials also proposed to use Saturday, March 7 as a Teacher Workshop Day with March 6 becoming a school day.

Barry Johnson, a high school math teacher and spokesman for the Lake Region Teachers’ Association, spoke against the recommendation.

Johnson said some staff members informed him moving the workshop to a Saturday would create a “hardship.” Some teachers work a second job, while others have already committed to certain events — one is attending a wedding, others would face day care problems, while another personally paid to attend a conference, which the registration fee is nonrefundable — on that day.

Johnson also pointed out that by law any work changes would require negotiations between the school district and the teachers’ union.

He added that membership was in favor of changing March 6 and April 17 to instructional days.

At the state level, there has been discussion whether the school day could be lengthened by an hour to make up days lost due to storm cancellations. But, the legislation has yet to be acted upon, SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Alan Smith told the school board Monday night during their meeting in the Great Room at Lake Region Vocational Center.

If that option is approved, SAD 61 would need to extend five school days to make up for one school day lost.

Casco Director Phil Shane liked the idea of using March 6 and April 17 as school days because he hears adding days onto the end of the calendar rarely amount to productive instructional time. “It’s a waste of time,” he said.

Looking ahead

When Bridgton Director Cindy LeBlanc looked at the proposed 2015-16 calendar, she tried to look at some creative ways for SAD 61 to avoid pushing the final day of school deep into June.

She even called the Maine Department of Education to bounce a few ideas off state officials.

Immediately, she questioned why SAD 61 would start school after Labor Day (the proposal calls for school to open on Sept. 2) when snow days have piled up over the past few years.

Ways to “save some days,” LeBlanc suggested, included making Friday, Oct. 9 — slated as a Teacher Workshop Day, which would allow students to attend Fryeburg Fair — and Wednesday, Dec. 23 as “half-days,” which would count toward the state required 175 student school days. She also pointed to Friday, April 15 — the Friday before the April break — as another possible “half day.”

“The last two years we’ve gone to June 20 and 21, and it’s too hot,” LeBlanc said. “We keep running into this problem every year, and we’re left scrambling to make up dates.”

To make such changes, however, SAD 61 needs to talk with “sending schools” like Sacopee Valley and Fryeburg Academy, whose students attend the Vocational Center, so that the respective calendars “line up.” Superintendent Smith plans to discuss the matter with those schools’ officials.

Meanwhile, the school board tabled action on the 2015/16 calendar until the superintendent reaches out to the sending schools.

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