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L.A. school board sticks with early start for school

L.A. school board sticks with early start for school
L.A. school board President Monica Garcia, left, and board members Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin, supported an early start school-year calendar. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles school board members often divide along ideological lines, but one of their most spirited debates Tuesday was over nuts and bolts: when the next three school years should begin and end.

Many parents of younger students favor a later start to leave more time for summer programs and family vacations. High school students often prefer to start early to finish the semester before winter break.

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In the end, the board voted 4 to 3 for a mid-August start and a first semester that will end before a three-week winter break.

There was no debate over another major board decision: to authorize the spending of about $1.4 billion, the next major chunk of voter-approved school construction and modernization funds. District officials already are talking of the need to ask voters for more.

Board members agreed to increase lobbying efforts for more state and federal money. They also heard grim projections in a budget report and expressed their concerns about L.A. Unified’s long-term solvency.

The disagreement over the calendar failed to break along familiar lines because it had nothing to do with charter schools. A 4-3 charter-friendly majority took over in July after this year’s elections, but charters, which enroll about 19% of district students, set their own calendars.

Charters are publicly funded but privately managed, and more of them are located within L.A. Unified than in any other school system.

Board members George McKenna and Richard Vladovic argued for the later school start and ending the first semester after winter break. They noted that the staff-recommended alternative would produce unequal semesters of 79 days in the fall and 101 in the spring.

“People leave the district because we don’t meet their needs,” Vladovic said. “Parents want more time in the summer with their children.”

Board member Nick Melvoin said district staff members had evaluated the pros and cons and he relied on their judgment. Other board members concurred and said the early start could give high school students more time to prepare their college applications. Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and board President Monica Garcia of the body’s charter-friendly bloc joined with retired principal Scott Schmerelson to form a majority.

The fourth member of the charter bloc, Ref Rodriguez, opposed approval of a calendar for the next three years, arguing that the parent surveys and other data it was based on weren’t good enough.

The next school year will start Aug. 14 and pause less than three weeks later for a four-day Labor Day weekend. Students will be off again for Thanksgiving week, from Nov. 19 to Nov. 23. The last day of school before winter break will be Dec. 14, with school back in session Jan. 7. A weeklong spring break will begin April 15. School will be out on June 7.

The usual divisions along charter lines appeared on one decision, when the board voted 4 to 3 to withdraw support for state legislation that would allow only local school districts to authorize charter schools. Currently, charters rejected by their local school boards can ask for authorization from county and state boards of education.

Board members also passed a resolution calling for a review of sexual harassment policies and internal data on complaints and for the creation of a sexual harassment hotline.

They postponed voting on a measure that would have revised the rules for their own meetings.

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