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Plan ahead, but don’t give up calendar flexibility

Members of the Medford School Board should be commended for their recent action to set the calendar for both the 2020-2021 school year and the 20212022 school year.

Setting the calendar in advance allows for staff and community members to plan ahead and schedule activities and events. It also allows area employers to plan ahead for when summer employees can begin working and to know in advance when school breaks will occur.

Going forward, the district’s plans to put more of the calendar-setting authority on the shoulders of the administration also makes sense. The district administrator is the person hired to oversee the day-to-day operations of the school district and as such has direct contact with staff to address any concerns that arise. Setting routine work schedules is a fundamental duty of any manager.

Philosophical arguments about if any learning occurs after a set calendar date or if all classroom instruction days are created equal are great when setting the overall parameters. Where the textbooks hit the desks, the administration has the responsibility to temper grand visions with the reality of managing staffs and meeting state requirements.

While it is good to put more authority in setting multi-year calendars in the hands of school administration, it is important that school board members don’t give up the flexibility to be responsive to the needs of their constituents.

In the pre-Act 10 days when school calendars were set as part of oftencontentious union negotiations, the amount of rancor around the negotiation table was reflected in how poorly constructed the calendar would be with boards ignoring common sense in favor of sticking it to teachers. When parents and citizens rightfully complained about things like coming back from Christmas break on a Friday or mid-week early release days, board members would reject appeals to common sense blaming the contracts.

Board members must guard that in setting multi-year calendars they do not once against slip into the mindset that once in place a calendar is unchangeable. It is a fundamental rule in Wisconsin law that an elected board cannot tie the hands of future boards. Simply put, elections matter. If there is a groundswell of voters in the community who feel that the parameters set by the district are no longer relevant, the board must be responsive to district residents and common sense and adjust the calendars accordingly. Making willy-nilly changes in the school calendar is not good for anyone. Rather, like local property taxes, it should be relatively unchanged from year to year allowing people to plan for the future.

Other area school districts should follow Medford’s lead in looking years ahead for setting school calendars.