The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board met before a packed room Wednesday. Photo by Adam Wolfe

After commuting teachers spoke against it, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board is reconsidering changes to the 2016-17 school schedule. The changes were made two years ago.

The board was considering taking away two “in-service” days from teachers and adding two days to winter vacation. The change was the last step of the schedule change that put MUSD on a different schedule than the Tempe and Kyrene school districts for the 2016-17 school year.

During the “call to the public” section of the school board’s meeting Wednesday night, teachers from around the district spoke up against the schedule changes for next year. They said it will be detrimental to the teachers who commute to Maricopa from other parts of the valley, and feared veteran teachers will be forced to leave.

“Let me first say that I have been happily teaching in Maricopa since Butterfield opened in 2008,” Butterfield Elementary School fifth grade teacher Karie Russell said. “I’m extremely invested in my students, my school and the Maricopa school district. My concern is that Maricopa school calendars have mirrored the Kyrene and Tempe school calendars for as long as I have taught in Maricopa, and I am concerned about next year’s calendar and the departure from the status quo.”

Russell’s concerns included not having the same spring, fall and winter breaks for teachers who have students enrolled in other districts, and the cost of care for teachers who will have students on vacation at different times will be too much.

Other teachers also spoke up against the change and agreed that the schedule differences could cost Maricopa veteran teachers since they will have to adjust their schedules to fit their family’s need.

“I would like to see additional thought put into some sort of study,” Santa Rosa Elementary School fifth grade teacher Christine Dickinson said. “I know the turnout was pretty low for our voting. Mr. (Tom) Beckett was clear on sending the options out, however, many staff members did not take advantage of that. So I would suggest redoing that.”

The opposition from the teachers sprang a debate among the board members. Annamarie Knorr and Torri Anderson felt the teachers have had plenty of time to review the new schedule and adjust accordingly. However, Board President Patti Coutré and board member Rhonda Melvin wanted more time to gather feedback from teachers and parents within the district.

“I think it’s really late in the game to change the calendar,” Knorr said. “When you look at the calendar we are considering, it was approved on Jan. 8, 2014, and revised on the 18th of November. None of these issues was brought up then. So it’s hard for me because we’ve had this calendar on our website for (over) a year.”

Coutré was not swayed by the argument, however, and still requested the board bring the item back to the agenda at their next meeting.

“I really feel at this point, for me personally, to make an informed decision, I need more input from the stakeholders,” Coutré said.

According to MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut, 40 percent of the district’s teaching staff voted in the survey for the schedule. Approximately 52 percent voted for the change, and 48 percent voted to stay aligned with Tempe and Kyrene.

“As a parent, I’m pretty ticked that all of the sudden we’re considering changing the calendar now,” Anderson said. “People had an opportunity to talk about this before.”

After a lengthy debate, the board came to a consensus that the schedule needs to be based on what is best for MUSD as a whole and not focus on what surrounding districts are doing. However, the item was tabled for two weeks to gather feedback from the district’s stakeholders.

A vote to keep the district’s start date as Aug. 8 or revert back to Aug. 1 is expected to take place at the school board’s next regular meeting on Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m.

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