After much debate at its meeting on Thursday, Jan. 10, the Katonah-Lewisboro school board voted 5-2 to keep the two Presidents Day weekend winter recess days on Monday, Feb. 18, and Tuesday, Feb. 19.
Board members Marjorie Schiff and Stephanie Tobin voted against it, and instead favored making those days student attendance days, citing concerns over ensuring that students receive the full amount of educational instruction possible, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of the district, which will lose state funding if 180 days of school are not provided. A few board members also expressed concerns over planned family vacations that would be spoiled by taking away those vacation days.
“I think our families are also concerned with making sure their kids have an appropriate number of days within which to do the work for the Regents [state exams],” Ms. Schiff said. “They care about that and I am trying to balance our obligation to the state and the community to provide 180 days of school with the fact that it is a terrible spot to be in and nobody wants to take away the February break.”
Board President Mark Lipton began the discussion by suggesting the matter be postponed until the district actually needed to face it. With one snow day in reserve and citing a dry forecast for the following weeks, he was comfortable tabling the discussion.
“From my point of view, frankly, the likelihood we would have to take back those two days is very low,” he said. “The weather report for the next two weeks we know is dry, so you are basically talking about February first. It would have to snow on a weekday, at night, so that it cancels school because early dismissals don’t count, so I just think the chances of that happening twice, because it would have to happen twice because we do have one day in our pocket, I think that happening twice leaves me prepared to table this indefinitely and deal with it when we have to.”
The district was forced to close school six days later, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, because of snow.
Ms. Tobin agreed with Ms. Schiff and was not nearly as comfortable with the likelihood of a snow day as Mr. Lipton.
“If you look at historical data, it is very likely between now and the end of winter that we use 3.3 snow days,” she said. “And what are your other choices to gain more class time?”
The February recess is one of the few options for the district to make up time without restarting labor negotiations, a situation made more difficult by state restrictions on making up class time after the Regents exams in June, said Scott Persampieri, assistant superintendent for human resources.
“There really is no plan B,” he said.
There are some very limited options in terms of negotiating time with labor associations, as they have already shown great flexibility helping to provide solutions to the problem, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer and Mr. Persampieri said. The administration and associations started work shortly after Hurricane Sandy to deal with the shortage of makeup days and praised the associations for their willingness to work over the winter recess.
“The three associations, I have to say, worked incredibly hard, worked with us and were incredibly flexible to help us come up with this plan,” Mr. Persampieri said. “I don’t think anyone was necessarily overjoyed to propose this.”
The main concern for teachers was maintaining the priority of uninterrupted instruction time, said Sandy Grebinar, president of the Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers Association.
“That is the reason why we were so flexible,” she said.
Faced with an unusually difficult calendar this year, with many holidays falling on weekdays, the district is in a time crunch in the schedule in terms of allowable snow days and options for making the time up if it becomes necessary. With Wednesday’s snow day, the district has run out of allowable snow days and will likely have to revisit the discussion, leaving many students and their families in limbo over the fate of their February vacation.
“Personally, I’d be going and I’ve done it,” said board member Dr. Peter Treyz. “My family time is worth more than two days in school. That’s how I feel about it and as a parent I have no problem saying that.”