By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The school year just got a little longer for Santa Rosa City Schools students and staffers.
Sonoma County’s largest school district on Wednesday night voted to add a school day the week before Christmas, while tentatively approving adding two more instructional days in March and April.
The school board’s unanimous vote eliminates as many as three previously approved furlough days.
The biggest impact will come with the addition of Dec. 22 — a Thursday — as an instructional day. As a result, the three-day final exam period for middle and high school students at the end of the semester likely will be changed to Tuesday through Thursday.
Friday then becomes a teacher workday and day off for students.
At the elementary level, Dec. 23 — Friday — becomes a regular school day.
The move also adds instructional days on March 16 and April 6, unless the updated state budget withdraws $4.9 million the district had planned when crafting this year’s budget.
“There is a big if here, and the if is that the state under its own formula may withdraw that $4.9 million,” said Associate Superintendent Doug Bower.
If the state cuts all or part of the $4.9 million, district officials can again cut the March and April dates from the schedule, as well as add a furlough day May 4 to replace the date added in December.
Furloughs save the district about $446,700 a day. If the district makes it through the 2011-12 school year without recutting those days, it would cost $1.3 million.
Board members lauded the three employee unions that ratified the deal prior to Wednesday’s vote.
“It just shows what the focus is — the focus is the students,” said Trustee Bill Carle. “We hear that loud and clear from union members at all levels.”
Santa Rosa High School senior Giselle Ayala said the calendar is already pressed up against Christmas, so adding a day will cause stress for families.
“We have finals the week before Christmas, families are going to be coming into town,” she said. “I don’t know how they expect us to study for finals when the next day is Christmas.”
Concern was also raised that the gains made by adding a day of school would be offset by families disregarding the new schedule and taking their students out of school to begin the winter break. The district loses state money for every student’s absence.
Andy Brennan, a teacher at Santa Rosa High School and president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, said at the secondary level, teachers are already welcoming an added day of review before finals from Tuesday through Thursday.
“From my perspective, I want that Monday. That is the day that becomes important,” he said. “We’ll use it.”
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com