After more than two years of contentious community debate, the Pleasanton school board voted last night to change the coming school year schedule with classes to start Aug. 15.
The school board has been considering changing the instructional calendar since 2013, and Tuesday night's vote ends a long and contentious series of debates and revisions surrounding the start and end of school.
"I think we did a much better job this time," board member Valerie Arkin said about the public opinion process prior to the calendar change. "We have been talking about this for quite some time. We need to be prepared to move on at this point."
The board also took a step forward in its process to bring a bond measure before voters by hiring a polling firm to do a community survey to see whether passing such a measure in the city would be possible.
The biggest change for the 2016-17 school year will be that the new calendar shifts the start and end of school up by one week and puts first semester high school finals before winter break.
The vote was 4-0 with board member Chris Grant absent due to a work travel scheduling conflict.
The new calendar calls for fall classes to starts Aug. 15 and end for winter break on Dec. 22. Semester exams for high school students will be held from Dec. 20-22. Classes for all students will start Jan. 10 in 2017 and will end June 2. For high school students, final exams will be held on June 1 and 2.
The former district calendar began school year classes on Aug. 22 and ended the semester after winter break on Jan. 20.
The decision was ultimately made after input from a calendar committee made up of teachers, students, parents and others stakeholders and 3,645 people who took a districtwide survey about the issue.
Some community members, including members of the calendar committee, urged board members to accept the new calendar.
"We work hard to make our students competitive, and our calendar should support those efforts," PUSD teacher and parent Ellen Gray said, mentioning high school seniors had been at a disadvantage because colleges require mid-year transcripts before the district's first semester ended.
Several board members said they liked the new option because pushing finals before winter break allowed high school students to have a stress-free break, rather than having to use that time to study for pending exams.
However, implementing a decision six months before the start of the next school year drew some concern.
Several board members expressed concern that community members had already planning out their summer schedules, and some students and teachers might have a tough time getting back to the city in time for classes and training days. The board didn't decide Tuesday exactly how that would be handled, but board members Valerie Arkin and Mark Miller hoped there would be some "flexibility" to make sure students don't face extreme consequences such as losing their place in a specific school.
In 2014, parents and community members were angered after board members changed the instructional calendar to a "modified lite calendar," so the board rescinded the calendar early last year and pushed discussions to this year. Tuesday's vote closes the matter for the next year, and board members asked staff to talk with the teacher and classified unions to try and agree that this calendar should be the model for at least three school years.
The board also decided to approve a $24,000 contract for EMC Research, a polling firm that has an office in Oakland, to conduct a 15-minute survey among registered Pleasanton voters.
The district is looking at putting a bond measure for construction projects before voters, possibly as early as November. While the district hasn't stated how much money it will ask for in the bond, the district has identified $500 million in project needs.
The pollsters will meet with a community committee made up of parents, board members, teachers and other stakeholders to create the polling questions, and the results will be brought before the board at a later meeting.
In other school news:
-The board approved regular personnel transfers, but one was brought to the board's attention as causing some tension at a middle school. After Foothill high band director Josh Butterfield was promoted to interim vice principal at Foothill, Pleasanton Middle's band director Lydia Lim moved to Foothill to be that school's full-time band director this week. Pleasanton Middle's band is now in somewhat of a limbo situation while the district figures out how to fill that role.