By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Fairfax County School Board is expected to vote tonight to shorten the academic calendar by two days, giving teachers extra time to wrap up the school year and forcing parents to scramble for child care.
The last day at most county schools would shift to June 13 from June 17. But what spells more summer for students and relief for teachers is turning into a headache for parents, who have less than a month to arrange care for their children.
It's unusual for the region's largest school system to eliminate days from the school year. Virginia requires 180 days of instruction, and the 165,700-student school system typically schedules three extra days for weather-related closings. Schools used only one weather day this year, and officials are recommending that the other two be professional days for teachers.
Schools in Montgomery, Prince George's and Prince William counties and in the District also end classes the week of June 9-13, as will some others in the area. The last day of class in Alexandria and in Arlington and Loudoun counties will be the following week.
The Fairfax proposal is meant to address teacher concerns that increasing commitments are eating away at their planning time. Some School Board members also see the proposal as a concession because they are likely to approve a 2 percent cost-of-living salary increase as part of a $2.2 billion budget tonight, rather than the 3 percent raise teachers had sought.
"We are struggling with . . . how [to] help our teachers meet the very high standards we have set for them, in a year when we are not going to pay them what we think they deserve," board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) said.
Elizabeth Wakefield, whose son is in kindergarten at Haycock Elementary School in Falls Church, said the change caught her off guard.
"I don't begrudge teachers the extra time," Wakefield said. "I'm just frustrated about how late in the game the decision is being made."
Many parents plan the summer transition months ahead and now have to make last-minute choices, she said, with some appealing to relatives to help with day care or looking for alternative arrangements. Wakefield had scheduled those last days of school to move into a new house and was not expecting to have her 5-year-old at home.
Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of Fairfax schools, called the decision to close schools early "remarkably complicated" and said officials reviewed ramifications of a schedule change at length. Among the issues were what to do about child care, planned field trips and scheduling variations within the school system, he said.
A few schools -- including Braddock, Cunningham Park, Flint Hill and Wolftrap elementaries -- were closed an extra day during the year because of electrical problems, so the last day for them would be June 16 under the plan. In addition, the last day for students at elementary schools with a modified year-round calendar would be June 17, rather than June 19.
Leonard Bumbaca, president of the 6,500-member Fairfax Education Association, pushed for the schedule change.
He said the extra professional days come at a time of year when teachers are often working round-the-clock to finish grades, wrap up labor-intensive student assessments, complete required training, reflect on the year and start planning for the next year.
"It is physically impossible to do it all," he said.