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Helmut Schmidt, Published September 10 2013

Fargo School Board wants later start for classes next year

FARGO – After recent hot late-summer temperatures shut down five of the city’s non-air-conditioned public elementary schools for a week, it was no sweat for the Fargo School Board to vote Tuesday to take a second look at next year’s school calendar.

The 2014-15 calendar, approved in May, has school starting on Aug. 20, two days earlier than this year.

The school board voted 9-0 to ask its calendar committee to come up with a calendar that starts classes on Aug. 27.

Board member Rick Steen led the push for reworking the calendar with an Aug. 27 start.

“I think the 20th is the earliest I can recall,” said Steen, who has sought a later start for school throughout his 11 years on the board.

“We’ve got so many holes in the schedule where the kids aren’t going to school,” he said.

For example, students are in classes only 15 days in November, Steen said. There is also no school the first week of March in the current 2014-15 calendar.

Five schools in Fargo were closed Aug. 26-30 due to high temperatures.

After being open the first two days of the school year, Clara Barton, Horace Mann, Lewis and Clark, McKinley and Roosevelt were closed for a week. Overnight temperatures were persistently warm, not allowing classrooms to cool enough by morning to be good environments for learning, district staff said.

A sixth school, Madison Elementary, stayed open by moving students to air-conditioned spaces.

To make up for lost class time, those five schools will have an extra half hour tacked on to school days from Sept. 30 to Dec. 20, the district announced.

“As long as we don’t have air conditioning in those schools, it behooves us to address it,” board member John Strand said of the early start dates. “It’s a reality.”

The private Grace Lutheran School in Fargo was also forced to cancel some class days due to the heat, and schools throughout the region went to half days or closed early some days to cope with temperatures in the mid-90s.

This year’s heat could give a boost to a group seeking to have all North Dakota schools open after Labor Day.

The group, which wants the issue on the November 2014 statewide ballot, recently turned in its proposed petition title and the names of its sponsoring committee members to the secretary of state’s office.

If the petition title is approved, the group will have to collect 13,452 signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

This year’s heat “definitely provides some incentive” to revise the calendar, Steen said. He said he would have suggested a post-Labor Day start, but noted that can in some years push the start of school a bit too late, a full week into September.

Rusty Papacheck, the School Board’s liaison to the calendar committee, said a later starting date would push high school graduation for the 2014-15 school year to sometime in early June.

As that calendar is now set, the last day of classes for the 2014-15 school year is May 28, with graduation for Woodrow Wilson High School on May 29, and graduations for North, South and Davies high schools on May 31.

In other business, the board voted 9-0 to give final approval to the 2013-14 general fund budget.

General fund revenue increased 6.58 percent to $134,117,835, while general fund expenditures increased 6.69 percent to $135,992,835, leaving a deficit in general fund spending of $1,875,000.

Business Manager Broc Lietz said the deficit is due to the timing of the Centennial gymnasium project, which was budgeted for the 2012-13 school year, but had much of the work done after the July 1 start of the new budget year. That project is due to be completed Nov. 1.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583