School calendars were the topic of conversation at yesterday’s Littlestown Area School District (LASD) Board meeting. Calendar changes are needed to facilitate the upcoming renovation of the middle and high schools, but the district is also looking at potential long-term modifications.
The board voted to adopt a one-year 2023-24 calendar in which the school year will end early to facilitate the start of construction next summer. The approved calendar maintains the number of days and hours for students and staff as required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Going forward, Superintendent Chris Bigger will create a task force of staff and community members to study five alternate calendar proposals that could begin in 2025-26 when the new high school opens.
“Whether we make a change or not is not priority one, but we should make a study of the topic,” he said, adding that he is not advocating a particular choice right now but is pushing the idea of discussion.
Bigger created five calendars ranging from 40 to 45 weeks in length. The traditional calendar runs 42 weeks. “First, we need to decide on the number of weeks, and then we can look at how many days per week versus how many hours per day.”
Earlier this month, a school-year calendar with every other Monday off was presented at a staff work session. It created some enthusiasm but also concern regarding its possible effect on childcare and length of day.
“It’s a study,” Bigger said. “I think it’s a delicate dance and balance with what the community wants, too.” Bigger said calendar changes could create a 1 to 5 percent savings in the district budget, but stressed the outcome would depend on whether or not the difference would be worth the benefits, opportunities, and challenges. “All of them come with a challenge. The question is, will the benefits outweigh those challenges? Are there wins across the board?”
Bigger agreed that none of the calendars might be acceptable to all stakeholders, and that could also be an outcome. “If there’s no change, there’s no change,” he said.
Bigger reported on a special legislative forum held earlier that day and attended by representatives from 20 of the 25 school districts in Lincoln Intermediate 12, which includes Adams, York, and Franklin counties. The five common topics that representatives all felt they needed help, direction, and support with are mental health, special education funding, early childhood education, staff challenges with hiring across the board – all positions, and cyber school legislation and funding.
Bigger said many of the district representatives believe other human services and agencies should be solving mental health needs. “This should not have been the school’s primary problem to solve financially. This should not fall to the taxpayers and the local school district,” he said.
Special education spending is based on federal law, which dictates what types of educational modifications students with special needs receive, but only provides 45 percent of the funding. “We’re just asking federally that they fund their promise. You made these rules, fund it,” Bigger said. Sometimes, he added, the cost is as small as $20, but for a few of the students, it can be as much as $100,000.
Regarding early childhood education, Bigger said the districts appreciate the research showing students need multiple literary experiences by the age of three, which parents could provide. “We need to do a better job educating parents about their role,” he said.
Hiring support staff has become a significant problem in Pennsylvania for all school districts, but Bigger said he is now beginning to see issues with classroom teachers as well. “We have an open English Language Arts position right now in sixth grade. Zero applicants. Zero.” He said it was the first time he had ever experienced this situation in his career. He added that the district representatives pressed the legislatures present to look at possibly modifying the requirements and recruitment for teachers in the field.
In terms of cyber schooling, Bigger said “There is no political will to solve the problem. It’s a fight between lobby dollars.” Although cyber education has been piggybacked onto the charter schools’ initiatives, Bigger said he believed that while charter schools have been worthwhile, cyber schooling has had poor results.
In other board business, two donations were approved:
- $2,500 for hats for students in need from the Thunderbolt Foundation in association with Community Aid
- $400 for the gaming and chess club from Donors Choose. The board thanked the organizations for their donations.
As part of the Thunderbolt Foundation Report, Beth Becker announced LASD had been awarded a $10,000 grant to support the purchase of shoes and snow boots for kids in need, a care closet for the high school, and snacks for students at the middle and elementary school level. She also announced teacher grants would be available again in January, including one that targets student grant writers who seek funding for co-curricular events. “We’re excited to give students the opportunity to apply for some funds to support the groups they are working with.”
Students of the month were recognized. They include Kieran McKeon, Kindergarten; Ava Clark, Grade 3; Noah Karbonski, Grade 8; Kathryn Eyer and Christian Keller, Grade 12.
A public hearing took place on Dec. 7 regarding the new construction project, priced at nearly $53 million and planned to begin in 2024. Written comments concerning the new construction may be submitted to Superintendent Chris Bigger by Jan. 7, 2023.
Featured image caption: Students of the Month for November: L – R: Kieran McKeon-Kindergarten; Kathryn Eyer-Senior; Noah Karbonski-8th Grade; Christian Keller-Senior; and Ava Clark-3rd Grade
Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.