Niskayuna school board members cautioned families against making plans for the 2020 April school break last week as they approved next year's school calendar with a heavy dose of ambivalence.
Before the board adopted the school calendar, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. warned the calendar did not include any “snow days built in” and that even just one snow day over the winter would force district officials to bring students to class over the April recess.
“The way this calendar is built doesn't really account for snow days,” Tangorra said at the meeting. “If we have snow days, we will have to be in school on April break.”
Even as the school board unanimously approved next year's calendar, board members appeared displeased with how the calendar came out. Board President Jack Calareso, as he called for a vote on the calendar, suggested the topic may have to be revisited: “I feel there is going to be a new calendar.”
In the meantime, Calareso said, board members should let residents know students may have to come to school over the spring recess.
“No one should be making plans for April break next year,” Calareso said.
The school calendar, which each year is ultimately approved by the school board, is developed by the superintendent in consultation with leaders of the Niskayuna Teachers' Association. Tangorra told the school board the teachers' contract strictly limits the number of days teachers can be scheduled to work each year to 187 days and that those limits constrained development of a more flexible calendar.
Tangorra said that while he had proposed several other versions of the calendar, none of those satisfied the teachers' association.
“We gave them a calendar that had snow days built in and they said no,” Tangorra said after the meeting, referring to the teachers' association leaders.
Mary Eads, president of the Niskayuna Teachers Association, in an email response to questions about the calendar said she was “a little surprised” by Tangorra's characterization of how the calendar was developed.
“Dr. Tangorra is well aware that the collectively bargained contract between the (teachers' association) and the administration delineates the parameters of the calendar,” she said. “He asked the (teachers' association) executive board to review his proposals, as per contract language, but in the end, it is Dr. Tangorra's and the (school board's) decision.”
The district's teachers contract calls for a calendar that “to the extent possible” schedules 182 student days and 187 teacher work days. The state requires a minimum of 180 student school days but allows local districts to require more school days. Eads said the district has long scheduled more days than mandated by the state, giving students and teachers more time in the classroom.
“One of the perks to the families of the Niskayuna community is that if there are no 'snow days' used, then teachers teach and students attend more days that year,” Eads said. “That has been a tradition in Niskayuna long before I came to the district in 1994.”
Another provision in the contract, though, states that “instructional days lost due to school closings” will not be rescheduled unless not scheduling a makeup day would cause the district to fail to meet state requirements and lose out on state funding.
The calendar approved last Monday by the school board included 182 days for primary grade students and 183 days for high school students. Eads couldn't say definitively whether she agreed with Tangorra's interpretation of what the effect of just one snow day would be on next year's spring break.
“As far as I know nothing is different,” said Eads, adding that some holidays that in the past had been on weekends would be during the week next school year. “That may put a little pressure on the schedule but we have always figured it out in the past.”
In an interview Friday, Tangorra acknowledged there may be some flexibility in the calendar. But he also pointed out that there are issues that force school closing aside from just snow days, citing the two days the high school was closed after a transformer blew. He also said the district's commitment to 182 school days for students - which he said they planned to meet "at all costs" - makes the district's school calendar even less flexible than many other districts in the region.
"I'm assuming between now and (next April) there will be additional conversations about this," Tangorra said. "We did share a calendar with the community (and say) that there is a chance we may have to be in session in April."