SD2 mulls over later school start next fall

Beginning in September, ending in June could beat heat, save money, but other concerns factor in
2012-09-05T21:30:00Z 2012-09-05T23:09:13Z SD2 mulls over later school start next fallBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Last week was hot, even for late August.

Temperatures in some School District 2 classrooms soared into the upper 80s and low 90s while outside the thermometer pushed 100. Eleven of the district's 30 schools, including West High, have no type of cooling system. 

With the heat, talk among teachers, principals and district administrators — along with students and parents — has prompted talk of pushing back the start of the school year to avoid some of the heat. 

"That's not acceptable," said Trustee Connie Wardell, speaking of the extreme heat found in some of the elementary school classrooms.

And it's not just Billings facing the problem. Schools in Pierre, S.D., canceled classes last week when temperatures reached 107 degrees, the Associated Press reported.

In Billings on Wednesday, a group of district officials debated pushing back the start of school anywhere from a few days to a week.

A later start helps to avoid that late August heat and would put the end of the school year later in June, when Billings is still in the midst of its spring weather.

"We rarely use the chillers in June," said Lew Anderson, facilities director for School District 2.

He calls June a "shoulder month," a time that saves the district money because neither heaters nor coolers are needed to keep classrooms comfortable.

By starting a week later in August and ending a week later in June, Anderson estimated the district could save roughly $8,692 a year. He arrived at the number by averaging the district's energy consumption during the last two weeks of August for the last four years.

"There is a significant savings, energy-wise," he said.

Superintendent Terry Bouck agreed but said ultimately the issue is about improving the learning environment for students. Saving money would be the bonus, he said.

The teachers and administrators involved in creating the district's school calendar — which goes before the board for approval on Sept. 17 — said shifting the entire calendar by a week could be tricky.

The district must balance holidays, sporting events and athletic schedules, semester breaks, testing and staff development days in the time allotted.

They also wonder if one more week of school in June would be detrimental to student learning.

"We see it," said Principal Jeri Heard. "Kids really do shut down" in June.

Heard is principal at Highland Elementary School. She said student attention starts to fade quickly the closer they get to June. It's a different attitude in August, she said.

"Despite the heat, kids are pretty gung-ho to start up," she said.

The district originally pushed the start of school back to mid-August as a way to end the first semester at the Christmas break. A change would push the end of the semester into January.

The calendar committee creates the school calendar three years at a time. The current cycle includes the school years through June 2016. However, to give themselves more time, it's likely the committee may send just the 2013/2014 calendar to the board for approval without the changes to the start of the school year.

That way, said committee Chairman Mark Wahl, his group would have more time to work out how to push back the school start date for the following year.

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