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Calendar committee comes to consensus

Despite concerns there would be too many voices, the 18-member New Westminster school district calendar committee came to a consensus at its first meeting Feb. 7.

It proposed the community and the board of education discuss either sticking with the current calendar for 2013-14 or go to one with a two-week spring break.

Superintendent John Woudzia also presented two other options similar to ones being contemplated by other districts on the region for the committee to consider—a two-week break along with additional closure days and a 12-month calendar—but the committee decided against going ahead with them.

The committee's composition included two representatives from each of the five employee groups, six parents and two students.

"I was really impressed. People were thoughtful, contemplative, they listened to other people," said board chair Michael Ewen, who was a spectator and not a participant at the meeting. "It was exactly the way committees should work. It's a template for how to proceed despite the size. In two hours there wasn't even a negative word."

The committee was formed to discuss what direction the district should take in establishing its 2013-14 calendar. For the first time, the Ministry of Education is requiring all districts in the province to come up with a 12-month calendar instead of the traditional 10-month version. Each district has to present a proposed calendar for consideration by the end of February and a final one to be submitted to the ministry by the end of March. Previously, those dates were two months earlier.

The committee also decided the public consultation would only be for 2013-14 and not for a two-year calendar, "but agreed that a question regarding approving multiple year calendars in the future should be included in a calendar survey," wrote Woudzia in a summary of the committee's meeting.

The survey is expected to begin Friday (Feb. 15) and close on March 8. The district will collect feedback from its partner groups next week with the calendars going out to the public for review the following week. There will be an open house on the issue at the New Westminster secondary library on Wednesday, Feb. 27 starting at 7 p.m. A final decision will be made by the board on March 26.

Ewen said a two-week spring closure instead of one would bring New Westminster in line with other districts in Metro Vancouver, many of which have made the move to save money. New Westminster is currently trying to make cuts to reduce an expected deficit this year and for 2013-14 as well as recover a $2.2 million deficit from 2011-12.

"It's not an educational decision, this is a financial decision," said Ewen of the two-week break option.

He added he would like to see New Westminster explore adopting a year-round school system to see if there are educational and/or financial advantages.

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