Nan Austin

Modesto City Schools to start Monday without a calendar in place

Modesto City Schools Administration building
Modesto City Schools Administration building Modesto Bee

School starts Monday for Modesto City Schools, and will run at least through August, when the district’s official school calendar ends.

Tied up in contentious negotiations on employee contracts, the Modesto calendar is being approved month by month this year. At the next school board meeting Aug. 17, the September calendar should be cleared for release.

On the district’s Facebook page, Trysha Hicks writes: “How are we supposed to plan anything? We don’t even know when collab days are, much less vacations? When are your people getting together to hash this out? If I missed an announcement or update somewhere, please let me know.”

The posted response to her echoes the answer we got when we asked the same question Tuesday: Nothing yet, but we feel your pain.

Superintendent Pam Able said she realizes the stalemate has created problems. “I completely understand the frustration our students, families and employees are feeling over the lack of an approved calendar for the upcoming school year. The lack of a calendar makes it extremely difficult to plan and I apologize for the inconvenience it is causing,” Able said by email Tuesday.

“I remain hopeful that we will come to a resolution with our two employee groups soon and appreciate everyone’s patience as we work through the negotiation process,” she wrote.

The district has an August calendar available on the front page of its webside, www.mcs4kids.com. Links to calendars elsewhere on the website, for example the parent resource page, pull up the 2014-15 version. We included the July and August calendar agenda item passed in June at www.modbee.com, which includes preschool information as well.

Key for parents to know: There will be a minimum day the first week, on Wednesday, for grades 1-12.

Back to School nights, which also mean a minimum day, will be held Aug. 20 for elementary schools, Aug. 25 for high schools and Aug. 27 for junior highs.

Shorter school days to accommodate teacher collaboration meetings are the wild cards for parents. Those transportation and child care headaches for working moms and dads will escalate for at least the first part of this year, with minimal notice for the minimum days.

The Modesto Teachers Association says negotiations on salary are making little progress, but the calendar issue is negotiated separately. Though teachers initially proposed a major change – splitting spring break away from Easter – by its July 20 bargaining update sent to members it had formally agreed to the district’s calendar.

“An immediate concern impacting anyone connected to our school district is the 2015-16 calendar. We recognize the difficulty this situation inflicts upon all of our families,” writes MTA chief negotiator Chris Peterson in Negotiation News.

He goes on to say the district can do this indefinitely, but must follow last year’s plan. “Without an agreement, the district has the power to impose a calendar until a final deal is reached. The district must advance a calendar which reflects the previous year’s model,” Peterson said.

The district is also still negotiating with its support staff, said Aaron Castro, president of the California School Employees Association Modesto chapter.

“We don’t have a calendar. The district wanted flexibility on spring break and that violated language currently in our contract,” Castro said Tuesday. His union does not split the calendar from the main negotiation, so there is no calendar until there is a deal on salary and other topics, he said.

Aaron characterized negotiations in general as “pretty close,” but the calendar issue has a wrinkle for them. The CSEA contract specifies employees get “the Friday before spring break” off, which has always been Good Friday. If spring break moves, however, that would create a problem for everyone.

Support staff would have the Friday off before the break, while the teachers union plans to shift its Friday holiday to match Good Friday, MTA President Doug Burton said in July.

None of that should be a problem this year in any case, Burton said. The MTA has agreed that spring break will remain the week after Easter this year, lining up with other Stanislaus County districts. On Tuesday, the district would not confirm that, however.

Reasonable people might have difficulty in seeing why this detail can’t be ironed out over sandwiches in a lunch hour and at least let families know when school will be in session. But as in most negotiations, there well may be other, unmentioned concerns complicating the picture.

While there is no official word, here is a best-guess look at other holidays:

Count on Labor Day, Sept. 7, and Veterans Day, Nov. 11, being off. Last year, however, Modesto students also had Nov. 10 off, making the patriotic holiday into a four-day weekend. This year, Veterans Day falls on a Wednesday, however, so it more likely will stand alone.

Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday are safe bets to be off again. The week off for Thanksgiving kids enjoyed a couple of years ago included three furlough days for teachers that did not happen last year and are not on the table this year.

Winter break for Modesto’s largest feeder districts, Sylvan Union and Stanislaus Union, starts Dec. 21. Kids head back to class Jan. 11. Traditionally, those districts fall in line with Modesto’s calendar. While the district did not answer a direct question about it Tuesday, it seems reasonable that Modesto City Schools will follow the other districts’ lead this year, avoiding major disruptions for families with kids in both districts.

Last school year, the district had Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Lincoln’s Birthday holiday and Presidents Day off, which this coming year fall on Jan. 18, Feb. 12 and Feb. 15, respectively. That would make a four-day February weekend if Lincoln’s actual birthday, which falls on a Friday, is used.

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