School Board eliminates early release, late start days for Freeport, Pownal, Durham

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FREEPORT — The Regional School Unit 5 Board of Directors approved a 2011-2012 school calendar that eliminates early release and late start days for students and adds two more professional learning days for teachers.

The board voted 10-1 to adopt the calendar last week, with Beth Parker of Freeport opposed.

Parker said she did not agree with doing away with the early release and late start days. She said that time was used for professional development and teachers will now have less time for that purpose.

“Even with adding two days, we are losing professional development time we had when the early release was in place,” she said.

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said high school students will no longer have late start days and pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students will not have early release days. 

She said high school students who used those morning hours to participate in SAT preparatory classes or study halls will be provided with time during the regular schedule.

“The high school will work within their schedule to provide flex time for those types of programs,” Welsh said. “Some teachers can schedule time to work with students and others can work on professional development.”

The calendar provides 175 days for students and 182 days for teachers, she said. The additional professional development days cost about $50,000 each and are included in the proposed 2012 fiscal budget. If board members want to add additional professional development time to the calendar, they will discuss it at the next meeting on Wednesday, May 11, Welsh said.

The changes to the calendar were vetted by the Use of Time Committee, an advisory group made up of 17 representatives from the Freeport, Durham and Pownal schools and communities. Their goal was to find the optimal use of time to benefit students and staff, while balancing the needs of families and the community.

Welsh said she is pleased with the process and the results.

“The Use of Time Committee worked to identify the benefits of these changes,” she said. “The board responded by adding time to the calendar to give teachers professional development time and to preserve student instruction.”

In other business, the board made a few adjustments to the proposed school budget.

Finance Director Kelley Wentworth said health insurance premiums have increased, adding $16,000 to the budget. The town of Freeport also refinanced bonds, lowering interest rates and principal payment amounts on both shared and non-shared debt, which reduced the total budget by $23,000.

Other changes include the addition of $56,000 for interest payment for the fields project and a reduction of $38,000 in tuition costs for Durham students attending Brunswick High School. There had been an addition of about $160,000 in tuition based on 2010 Census figures. 

Even with these adjustments, Wentworth said taxes will not change considerably.

Durham residents face a 1 percent increase, or about $18,000; in Pownal, taxes will decrease about 1 percent, a $10,212 reduction; and in Freeport, taxes will increase 1 percent or $89,000.

The board of directors, including newest members Candace Decsipkes and John Ricker of Durham, will meet Wednesday, May 11, at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeport High School cafeteria to continue budget deliberations.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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