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School Board nixes a pre-labor day start and potentially alienates committee volunteers in the proce

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

-Karl Marx

I don't find myself quoting Marx often but this quote seemed fitting after watching the calendar discussion at the School Board meeting Tuesday night. If you need a refresher on the issue, BTW wrote an article recently outlining much of the calendar change debate, find that HERE. Sorry, no puppies and kitties this time.

Anyone who has lived in Stafford County for a while knows that this calendar change discussion comes up periodically but never goes anywhere. This particular attempt seemed doomed almost from the start. Shortly after SCPS sent out a survey to the community, accusations of impartiality and trickery were lobbed at the calendar committee. By the time the subject was actually discussed by the board two weeks ago, almost all of the SB members seemed predisposed to tossing the idea. It got to the point where Garrisonville Rep Chris Connelly stated that the calendar committee's findings shouldn't even be presented to the board. Fortunately, the board was persuaded to at least hear the committee's findings at the meeting yesterday. But it was to no avail as the SB decided to throw out the pre-labor day calendar before public comments could be heard.

Personally, I am a fan of the pre-labor day start but there was truly no way the SB could have moved forward with this idea. While there are plenty of things to debate about the change itself, it was the process that really crippled this attempt. For example:

- There were no bus drivers on the calendar committee, people who would very clearly have a vested interest in this conversation. Apparently, this is SCPS policy (!) and was something that multiple members of the SB acknowledged needs to change.

- The surveys were not handled properly. The results of the surveys presented by the committee were not conclusive. The first survey had over 7000 responses and seemed to show a strong willingness to move to a pre-labor day start. However, as mentioned above, the first survey was widely panned for being purposefully skewed. The second parent survey, with only 5100 responses, showed a relatively close split down the middle, with 54% of parents preferring a post-labor day start. The second staff survey showed a slightly stronger preference for a pre-labor day start with almost 52% in favor. Unfortunately, many people never got the second survey and felt excluded from the process. SCPS did attempt to get people to update their emails, since that was the delivery method for the 2nd survey. But in public comments, one woman stated that her email was current and she still did not get the survey. This is supported by what BTW has seen in social media reports as well. Obviously this is a problem, you can't measure community reaction to an idea without being able to access your community.

- There was a general lack of data supporting a change. People, on the whole, don't like change to start with and change for no apparent reason? Forget it. Falmouth Rep Scott Hirons expressed disappointment in the calendar committee for this lack of data. He pulled out a rather thick file from the previous 2010 attempt to change the calendar and said he was hoping for something similar from this committee. He further pointed out that a survey alone is not enough to go on to make this kind of a change. According to Dorothy Wood, one of the parents on the calendar committee who presented to the SB, there was a packet with data given to the SB members in advance of the meeting. It is unclear what these data findings consisted of or if SB members had an opportunity to review the data prior to the decision. BTW has requested these materials. In any event, the long list of concerns rattled off by various SB members could not be answered by cold, hard facts because none were to be had. This bothers me a lot as there was plenty of time to gather data. But the parent volunteers had no idea that data collection was a job of the committee as they had little guidance from the SB in that regard.

- They have simply run out of time. The calendar for the 2018-19 school year needs to be approved ASAP for planning reasons. The SB doesn't have any more time to gather data and do further research. At this point, they have to make the decision based on what they can objectively see.

Unfortunately, the multitude of concerns expressed by the SB came across too much like an attack on the hard working volunteers of the committee. Calendar committee parent member and co-presenter Ana Killion was exceptionally passionate when she spoke during public comments about this treatment She ripped up her prepared statements and said,"Why even ask for committee input when you don’t give direction and you don’t take it. ...I have spent a lot of time on committees for this school system. I am an active engaged participant, caring only about students of this school system. Today I have questioned whether I should stay and if I should care. This is not fair." I sat next to both Ms. Wood and Ms. Killion and I can tell you first hand, they were very frustrated and angry. Griffiths-Widewater Rep Jamie Decatur did take time to thank the committee for all of their hard work both while on the dais and in person with these ladies during a break in the meeting.

BTW got this related comment via FB from Mr. Hirons after the meeting. "I'm just angry, very angry about the whole calendar process. SB members are harsh to the process and it looks like we are attacking them (the parents) and the effort that was put in - which was not the intent at all. I don't think it was fair to the ladies that were there tonight presenting the calendar committee to be in the position they were put in."

For the the 2018-19SY, this topic is DOA. The SB voted to move forward with the post-labor day calendar, with Chairwoman Hazard casting the only dissenting vote. However, it is my hope that the subject will come up again next year and I know the SB is open to that. I believe that with a better process in place and hard data to prove the value of the idea, Stafford could actually make what I believe would be a beneficial change for our kids. To that end, I have decided to make myself an honorary calendar committee member for next year! If it is data that they need, hey, I am all about collecting data. There have been those that have said there is no data to support a change but I find that hard to believe. Let's start by looking at the map below, which shows which school systems start before labor day statewide:

Disregarding the red "experimental" sections of this map that can potentially only have 1 school starting pre-labor day, only the yellow regions have a post labor day start. You can take Spotsylvania and Fairfax off this list as well, next year they will also start pre-labor day. With such a huge number of counties in Virginia alone that start before labor day, my guess is someone, somewhere has a little data to share, even if it is preliminary. All you have to do is get out the shovel and do a little bit of digging.

NOTE: Mr Hirons felt I was unfair in my assessment. I am sharing his thoughts because he has been a supporter of the blog since the beginning.

From Scott Hirons: "We clearly stated that we want to work to have a better defined process and more direction to a Calendar Committee with expectations of data and information we need to make a decision on making such a big change to our school division.

Accuracy is important because inaccuracy creates all kinds of rumors, anger, frustration, etc. For those of us who voted in favor of the motion, I think we made it pretty clear we are not for or against either pre or post, but didn't have enough information to make a decision and we are at a point where we need to start deciding on the 2018-19 calendar, but do want to work on a better process and set expectation for information needed for future calendars."