Oftentimes I will take the opportunity to address issues that are raised by the community in this message, and today I thought it was appropriate to address two questions that I recently received.
The first one is about the school calendar. Much like calling a weather-related two-hour delay or canceling school, the creation of the school calendar each year comes with its fair share of supporters as well as detractors.
Do we start school before or after Labor Day? There are those who will argue for each of those positions. Should we have off Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day? Why do we have to make up Snow Days?
For the past few years, the job of putting together the school year calendar has been the responsibility of Janet O’Rourke, our Assistant to the Superintendent for Assessments, Human Resources and Evaluations.
Ms. O’Rourke spends the equivalent of at least four to five working days to compile several drafts of the calendar for the upcoming school year. Her primary goal is to provide our students with the most instructional time possible before the “high stakes testing dates” (aka the PSSAs) begin in the spring.
Pennsylvania law requires 180 instructional days during a school year, but Bethel Park’s calendar includes 181 instructional days for students.
Other factors that need to be considered include the impact that district construction projects over the summer will have on our schools’ ability to be ready in the fall; federal and state holidays, Kennywood Day and when we want to host Graduation, to name a few.
Ms. O’Rourke has a folder in her office containing notes that she takes from year to year, describing the things about the school calendar that have worked, as well as those that have not.
Once she prepares several drafts, she shares those with the Bethel Park Federation of Teachers, to see if there are any red flags, before going to the Board of School Directors for final and official approval.
If you look at the calendar closely, you’ll see that we alternate having off Martin Luther King Day and President’s Day each year. One will be a No School Day, while the other will be a Teacher Inservice Day, unless we would need either of them to be a Snow Make Up Day, as we did this year with Martin Luther King Day.
You will also notice that not all nine week grading periods are created equally. It is intentional that the grading period with the PSSAs in it, is a longer grading period by one day.
By the time you read this message, we should have a 2017-2018 school year calendar approved. If we don’t, it will definitely be approved by the end of February. While the calendar will not make everyone happy, we hope you can at least appreciate the thought and effort that goes behind its creation.
The second question I would like to briefly address is why the District uses an outside firm, Precision HR Solutions, Inc., to provide us with substitute staffing of our professional and support staff in the schools.
Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult for the District to fill all of our substitute needs on a daily basis from our substitute list. Working with an outside firm that also does this same service for some of our neighboring school districts provides us with a bigger pool of substitutes to draw from to fill our vacancies.
Additionally, using an outside firm allows the District to use retirees as substitutes without jeopardizing their retirement benefits. If the District would contact these individuals and pay them directly, it would jeopardize their retirement benefits. Using an outside firm in this manner allows them to work and not reduce any of their pensions, while enlarging the pool of qualified substitute candidates for us.
Also, using an outside staffing firm eliminates the District’s legal obligation to offer heath care to those who would work in Bethel Park more than 30 hours a week, saving taxpayer money.
The District continues to explore ways to cost effectively run our schools and provide our students with the best education possible at the most affordable cost.
I hope you and your family had a great holiday break in December. We are now past the half-way mark of the 2016-2017 school year and hopefully warmer weather is around the corner as we move toward the end of another great school year in Bethel Park!