Leander ISD Board of Trustees chose an alternative 2018-19 school calendar at its Thursday, Feb. 15 meeting that will have classes starting Aug. 16 and summer break starting May 31. The early start date was made possible through adopting a District of Innovation plan to provide more choices on calendar dates.
The board decided to go with “Option B,” which is posted on the LISD website, and it includes a Christmas break with two weekends from Dec. 24 through Jan. 4 and Spring Break is aligned with the University of Texas, March 18-22.
In order to do this, the district gained an okay from the state’s education commissioner to have more options on the calendar after trustees voted first to designate Leander ISD as a District of Innovation. Trustees said greater flexibility for the calendar was the sole reason for becoming a District of Innovation, but parents, teachers and students told trustees at Thursday’s meeting they weren’t so sure about the wider implications of attaining DOI status.
Tina Ritzema, third grade teacher at River Place Elementary, said she was concerned about how DOI status could allow future school boards to eliminate teacher certification requirements and classroom size limits.
“I trust that I can talk to every one of you,” Ritzema said. “My concern is, what if you’re not here?”
Bana Curr, a booster club member and substitute teacher, said she opposed the “Option B” school calendar because it extends the school year beyond Memorial Day.
“The school board pushed for the District of Innovation under the pretense that you wanted to fix the calendar,” Curr said. “But today you’re here, you’re about to vote and the calendar is not fixed.”
Randy Houchins, a parent of a Leander ISD student, told the board that placing limits on the DOI designation to only concern the school calendar could easily be changed by a vote of the committee that endorsed the plan or by a two-thirds majority vote of the board of trustees.
The school district has a Districtwide Educational Improvement Council comprised of parents, community members and business representatives that meets seven times a year. On Feb. 8, a group of randomly selected committee members voted 57-14 to endorse the DOI plan.
District spokesman Corey Ryan said the board of trustees has tried to be clear that the DOI status was pursed only to allow more flexibility is setting the school calendar. Ryan said the district could not start classes sooner than the fourth Monday in August without the designation.
Trustees Aaron Johnson, Will Streit and Trish Bode discussed putting strict limits on changes to the District of Innovation in the future. Johnson said he didn’t see how seeking the District of Innovation status would harm the district.
“Having a District of Innovation plan that authorizes specific things and nothing else doesn’t put a district any closer to adopting the bad things that nobody wants,” he said.
The board voted for Bode’s motion to approve the DOI with the understanding that it could not be altered without restarting an approval process including a new board resolution, a public hearing and a 30-day comment period.
Additionally, Thursday’s board meeting started on a somber note.
Board President Pamela Waggoner asked for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were killed on Feb. 14.
“I was sitting in this chair after Sandy Hook,” Waggoner said, referring to the 2012 Connecticut shooting where 20 elementary school children and six teachers were killed. “Little did I know, so many years later, we’d still be dealing with news of shootings in our schools. Our hearts go out to all the parents of victims of this latest tragedy.”