YRE-lovers hope for trustee turnaround

They’re lobbying for what the kids call a “do-over.”

Supporters of year-round education (YRE) want to convince the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees to reverse its decision to return all schools to a traditional calendar in 2006-07 in the hopes of saving nearly $70,000 a year.

So far, YRE advocates have a 6-inch-thick stack of postcards, subcommittees and a group ready to speak at the Sept. 7 school board meeting.

“We hope we’re not too late to effect a change,” said Peggy Malnar, a third-grade teacher at Emma Wilson Elementary School who hosted a Save YRE Committee meeting in the campus library on Aug. 29.

About 40 people attended the meeting and vowed to do whatever it takes to get the board to reconsider—including finding ways to make the program cost less.

The CUSD calculates that ending YRE will save the district $69,500 a year. (The original estimate was nearly $80,000, due to principals’ stipends mistakenly being calculated at 10 rather than five extra days per year.) Of the projected savings, $23,516 is attributed to utility costs, while $33,145 would be money saved by not running buses while only the five YRE schools are in session.

Randy Meeker, who manages the CUSD’s budget, was peppered with questions at the afternoon meeting.

Due both to declining enrollment and state budget woes, the CUSD has cut $9.2 million over the past seven years to balance its $100 million budget. “The options get tighter and tighter and tighter,” Meeker said. “The board didn’t want to [end YRE].”

Suggestions thrown out at the meeting included: doing without bus transportation during some months, reconfiguring the calendar so there are fewer weeks when only YRE schools are in session and saving electricity in some way.

One parent, Greg Royat, called on the CUSD to cut a District Office administrative position rather than end YRE.

Another offered to get more involved in fund-raising. “Why are we eliminated from this process? I would love to volunteer or give money to keep things rolling,” said Mike Grattidge, who has two children at Emma Wilson.

The group met in May and again in June. Emma Wilson and Neal Dow elementaries have been most involved, but representatives from the other year-round schools—Little Chico Creek, Rosedale and Chapman—are also on board.

The 2,500 students on YRE schedules benefit greatly from the setup that affords them three one-month periods of vacation rather than a long summer stretch, said June McLaughlin, who has three children at Neal Dow.

Not only do the students retain knowledge better with shorter breaks, she said, but, “completely on a financial level, it’s much easier” to take three shorter vacations or budget for day care.

Malnar said the summers-off schedule, a holdout from the days when children were needed to help on farms, is the educational system that makes less sense. “If someone came along and said, ‘I’m going to stop educating your child for three months,’ we would say, ‘Why would you do that?'”

Although the move was originally made in the CUSD 14 years ago to optimize space during enrollment growth (the state wouldn’t send money for new buildings unless 30 percent of students were in problematic, multi-track YRE), the district officially endorses the concept of single-track YRE as a way to provide continuous learning and be “more consistent with the needs of today’s world.”

In 1999, Chapman moved to a single-track, year-round schedule, saving as much as $225,000 a year. Soon after, other campuses followed suit, ending years of moving supplies in and out of classrooms to accommodate a new group of students.