Denver school board members will be asked Thursday to delay the start of the coming school year by one week to lessen the effect of heat in schools that lack air conditioning.
The 2012-13 school year, if no change is made, is set to begin Aug. 16 and end May 28. But if the board votes Thursday to accept a recommendation from district staff, it would start instead on Aug. 23 and end on May 30.
The current school year began Aug 18, with some new schools opening Aug. 10. Many students and staffs suffered through the hottest August on record in Denver, with several people requiring medical treatment for heat-related illnesses.
Of the 153 schools owned by the district, 83 of them – or 54 percent – lack central air conditioning. District officials estimate it would cost $400 million to equip those facilities with air conditioning, an expense the district is not in a position to consider.
Board members’ comments Tuesday night suggested that many thought pushing the start date back by one week was little more than a cosmetic step.
– Happy Haynes, DPS board
“This is the classic, ‘We want change – but not too much,’” said Happy Haynes, elected to the board in November as an at-large member.
“A week’s time does absolutely nothing to solve the problem and it makes us feel like we did something, and we really didn’t,” she added.
Anne Rowe, another new board member, elected in November to represent southeast Denver, agreed.
“This solution is such a small piece of a very important discussion that we need to have, and I find that very, very frustrating,” she said.
Superintendent Tom Boasberg, in putting forward the proposed new dates, acknowledged, “There is no perfect calendar” and that “Where you pull on one end, it means pushing on another end.”
Board members expressed concern that a one-week shift to the calendar does nothing to solve the problem of an over-heated school, which can occur in late May, early June or early September, as well as mid-August.
Board member Nate Easley pressed Boasberg to present at least an initial answer by Thursday to the problem of overly hot schools, regardless of the date on which a heat wave is taking its toll. Boasberg could not commit to doing so in less than 60 days.
Sentiment has been building on the board over the past year that, as some of its charter schools and innovation schools have done, the district may want to consider moving to a longer school year – a step that would further complicate a discussion of hot-school remedies.
The overheated start to the current year resulted in the creation of a task force charged with sampling DPS community sentiment about a later start date.
An online survey, which drew about 7,100 respondents, found roughly two- thirds favored a new start date – but they were split on what that date should be.
The highest percentage, 38 percent, preferred starting in the first week of September and finishing in the second week of June. Another 29 percent opted for starting the fourth week of August and ending the first week of June. And 33 percent favored the current schedule, starting the third week of August and finishing at the end of May.
The work of the start date task force was reviewed in recent weeks by a DPS calendar committee, a group of about 15, which included principals, parents, instructional and operational departments, as well as employee unions. The group also investigated a new alternative, starting Aug. 27 and ending June 5.
But the committee uncovered concerns that ending in June might result in many students missing those last days and complicate plans for district employees who typically take another job during the summer.
Board member Jeannie Kaplan, for whom hot schools has been a subject of particular interest, expressed dismay that she had not been invited to serve on the calendar committee as a board representative. But that was just one of numerous complaints she voiced.
“I have major concerns about only pushing the start date back a couple of days,” she said. “There was a parental petition that went around, that had thousands of signatures from parents who didn’t want the year to start until after Labor Day. Where did that come in?
“This is very unsatisfying, to me,” Kaplan added.
Boasberg emphasized that he had not expected an Aug. 23 start date would make everyone happy.
“This is not going to be a situation of unanimity,” he said, in response to Kaplan. And citing the online survey results, he reminded her, “There were very big numbers that didn’t want to push the start date back at all.”