The new school calendar legislated to start two weeks early and end before the Christmas holidays can start this year without breaking the budget after all, by extending Christmas break and rearranging some teacher work days, Education Commissioner Donna Frett-Gregory told the Senate on Monday.
"This plan will help avoid paying out millions of dollars to implement the new calendar," Frett-Gregory said.
To start 10 days earlier, the school system has to find 10 days in the year to give teachers later in the year, or else pay them for more time worked. To make up most of those days, Frett-Gregory proposed extending Christmas break so classes return Jan. 14 instead of Jan. 7, then getting rid of two and a half days of break during Carnival on St. Thomas. The system used to hold classes for half a week and then close for half a week, but some time back it changed, due to low attendance for those two and a half days, Frett-Gregory said.
Attendance could be an issue, but those days can be restored without labor contract issues, she said. There are still two and a half days to make up, but there is some flexibility in the school calendar and she is confident it can be worked out, Frett-Gregory said.
Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly asked St. Thomas/St. John AFT President Vernelle DeLagarde and St. Croix AFT President Rosa Soto-Thomas to comment on Frett-Gregory’s plan. DeLagarde said it appeared to work and to avoid problems with the labor contract. She said she could support it "as long as our members are not losing anything."
Soto-Thomas said attendance might be an issue and "it will take some time to transition. But we will get beyond that."
"So it looks like we have achieved some level of consensus. That is wonderful news for the students and community," O’Reilly said.
Sen. Clifford Graham said he was "very happy" at the progress and, that since his bill was meant to address the calendar, it should be held in committee. "If negotiations should break down, we will be ready, but I think they are on the right track," Graham said.
Voting to hold the bill were O’Reilly, Sens. Judi Buckley, Donald Cole, Myron Jackson, Janette Millin Young and Tregenza Roach. Sen. Sammuel Sanes was absent. Noncommittee members Graham and Sen. Clarence Payne were also present.