A group of La Cañada Unified parents spent Sunday evening in Memorial Park asking Music in the Park concert attendees to sign a petition asking the school board to rescind its decision to eliminate four days of school next year.
The move to increase the district teacher’s pupil-free days from three to seven for 2011-12 came out of the district’s contract negotiations with the La Cañada Teachers Association in February. A handful of minutes were added on to each school day to account for the missed days.
A group of parents attended LCUSD’s Governing Board meeting on June 21 and asked the board to reverse that decision. It was these parents who collected more than 80 signatures for the petition in about 90 minutes on Sunday.
“It was very easy getting those 80 signatures,” said Daniel Lidar, one of the district parents who was involved Sunday. “There was simply no one that straight-out refused to put their name down.”
The group also received more than 20 signatures on an online petition (http://tinyurl.com/3jfgcxw). Ron Dietel, a former La Cañada school board member and the assistant director for research, use and communications at the UCLA Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, also started a blog with information on the topic (http://lcusd.wordpress.com/).
Todd Andrews, a parent of two children in the district, said he didn’t have a problem signing the petition.
“There is no way those four minutes added every day can equal four days of instruction,” Andrews said. “That’s fooling ourselves.”
Andrews said eliminating four days of school in the 2011-12 academic year is a step back for the district.
“We have tried too hard to not cut anything back and to not go to furlough days,” he said. “We’ve prided ourselves on that as a district, but this just feels like furlough days.”
Lidar said “the overwhelming sentiment in the park was” that the move will have a “huge negative impact on the quality of education,” and will drain family resources by requiring parents to provide daycare for their kids on those four days.
“I think it’s plain and obvious that parents are simply upset that four days were cut from the school year without any input from the community,” Lidar said. “It looks like an under-the-table, back-door kind of deal. There is no clear justification given to the community.”
Dietel emailed the petition to Supt. Jim Stratton, Governing Board President Susan Boyd and the other LCUSD board members on Tuesday morning. Dietel has yet to hear back from anyone at the district, other than board member Cindy Wilcox, since his email last week requesting that the board reopen the discussion on the four additional pupil-free days.
“This certainly does not support their core board value to ‘maintain strong, open and proactive communication between and among all stakeholders,’” Dietel said.
Another thing that bothers Dietel is that the district’s downloadable calendars, available under the “news and resources” tab on the district’s website (www.lcusd.net), show no change in the number of days of instruction from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Both calendars show a total of 180 days in the school year, even with the four pupil-free days already added for the 2011-12 year.
“Unfortunately, that indicates a major lack of transparency,” Dietel said. “Either that, or they don’t know how to do the math and subtract four days.”
The board on July 5 will take the parents’ request to reopen the discussion on pupil-free days to agenda planning for the July 12 meeting. Boyd and board member Joel Peterson will represent the board in agenda planning.
Peterson said the matter may not appear at the July 12 meeting because Boyd is scheduled to be on vacation that day.
“This kind of thing may require the full board there, especially when you’re talking about changing a board decision,” Peterson said. “I think the community would want to ensure all the board members were there as well to hear their concerns first hand.”
Peterson, the only board member who voted against implementing the four pupil-free days at the May 31 meeting, said he empathizes with the community on the issue.
“I can certainly understand why the community and parents are feeling this way,” Peterson said. “Do I believe our program will collapse because of this? No, but I don’t believe our program is enhanced by the loss of these four days.”
The district’s July 12 board meeting will be held in the district’s round building, located at 4490 Cornishon Ave., at 7 p.m.