Board votes to extend spring break

NANAIMO – Students will double their days off at spring break next year as trustees vote to extend spring break.

Nanaimo students will double their days off at spring break next year.

The Nanaimo school board voted unanimously to extend March break an extra five school days, citing anticipated budget shortfalls.

“We are in a financial deficit. I support it for financial reasons … wanting to see that our class size and composition levels are not challenged,” said trustee Kim Howland.

By closing the schools an extra five days each year, the school district will save approximately $450,000. It faces an anticipated budget shortfall of $4.7 million in 2013-14.

“These shortfalls are going to continue to accumulate unless we start to address them head on this year,” said trustee Dot Neary.

Board members mentioned that there are some health and wellness benefits to a two-week spring break, but also considered that it can be a disruption to learning.

Extending spring break impacts Canadian Union of Public Employees workers, who will not be paid during that time, but in theory the financial savings could mean keeping eight to 10 full-time-equivalent teachers and educational assistants.

Trustees generally agreed that other than retaining those teachers, there are no other educational benefits to a two-week spring break.

“I don’t like it, but I could live with it because I don’t want to see permanent positions gone,” said trustee TerryLynn Saunders.

“I feel like I’m hamstrung right now and I have to support it,” Saunders said.

Jeff Virtanen, treasurer of CUPE’s mid-Island local, said it’s unfortunate that trustees are forced into these kinds of decisions because of under-funding of public education.

“Obviously the impact on our workers concerns us greatly,” he said. “Our members are hard-working and proud of their contributions to the education of our students. It’s very troubling to us when budgetary decisions come before the delivery of those services to those students. Less time in school can’t be a positive educational experience, it just can’t.”

Another minor calender change was also approved at Wednesday’s board meeting. There will be two in-service days added, one on Sept. 3 and one on Jan. 31, and students will get those days off.

One of those days is the first day of school; in past years, students were only required to attend for an hour anyway. Their school year will now begin Sept. 4 with a full day of classes.

The idea of starting classes an hour later on Wednesdays was defeated by the board in a close 5-4 vote.

The district had hoped staff could begin those days with professional learning communities – collaborative discussion about classroom issues – but parents strongly opposed the idea in a survey, citing inconvenience to their morning routine.

“This is going to create practical, family-based problems. This is going to be disruptive,” said trustee Jamie Brennan, board chairman.

Trustee Donna Allen said gifted students, those with special needs and more typical pupils all need more attention and PLCs are a way to offer that.

“I think it’s time for our board to be very brave…” she said. “My concern would be for all the kids who need a great deal more support in our classrooms.”

In the end, the board decided that although it likes the PLC model, it just doesn’t fit on Wednesday mornings.

“It’s a good idea and I hope that it will come back in a different form, one that we can support,” Brennan said.