New Westminster News Leader

School district calendar committee downsized

The 22-member calendar committee established by the New Westminster board of education Jan. 21 was downsized to 18 by trustees just a week later.

School districts across the province are required to come up with a 12-month calendar for the Ministry of Education by March 31, and they have to publish a proposed one by the end of February. Previously a 10-month calendar was due by May 31. New Westminster is using the requirement to look at going to a two-week spring break.

The initial proposal called for eight parents on the committee including four with children in the elementary schools. But after a lengthy follow-up discussion at last Tuesday's board meeting, the elementary participation was reduced to two. In addition, the proposal to include a member of the business community and one from city parks and recreation was eliminated.

The committee will consist of two representatives from each of five employee groups, parents of children in elementary, middle and secondary schools, and students (one each from high school and middle school).

Board chair Michael Ewen said in an interview Thursday, trustees decided that since staff will outnumber parents there will be no vote on which option is best but the committee will be asked to reach a consensus. If not then it will be up to the board to decide which way to go.

Ewen said the committee will likely explore three options, retaining the current schedule, adopting one with a two-week break, or alternatively five more closure days spread throughout the school year in addition to a two-week spring break.

The latter idea would mean a total of 10 fewer days in the school year, which could bring cost savings to a district dealing with the spectre of past, current and future deficits.

"It's what Vancouver and Surrey did to get their budgets under control," said Ewen. "It is saving money."

He pointed out only Burnaby and New West have retained the one-week break, and consideration of going to two weeks is on Burnaby's agenda. If New West went that route, schools would have to add minutes on to their regular school day to make up the time lost. Opponents of the two-week break claim the loss of days isn't good for the students.

"There is no evidence at all there's any loss in education. The achievement levels have not dropped in either district (Vancouver and Surrey)," said Ewen. "There is no research that what we're doing now is educationally sound. We do it because we do it. I can't argue a nine-week [summer] break is a good way to educate people either."

Trustee Lisa Graham said the committee's "timeline is ridiculously impossible." She suggested the district declare the status quo for 2013-14 leaving time for the committee and board to determine what route to take in the future.

"I don't think three (options) is enough," said Graham.

Ewen said the committee's first meeting is expected to be Thursday.

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