LA Unified school board flip-flops: district's calendar won't change next year after all

Board Member Scott Schmerelson speaks during LAUSD's Annual Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at LAUSD Headquarters.
Board Member Scott Schmerelson speaks during LAUSD's Annual Board of Education Meeting on Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at LAUSD Headquarters.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Remember how the Los Angeles Unified School District was thinking of starting its school year later in August, closer to Labor Day? Well, never mind!

The L.A. School Board reversed course Tuesday night, voting 4-2 to instruct Superintendent Michelle King to essentially keep the calendar as it is — with the first day of school still falling three weeks before Labor Day and a three-week-long winter break — through 2020.

This is the same board that voted in September, 5-2, to ask King to craft a calendar that would begin two weeks before Labor Day in 2017-18, and one week before Labor Day in 2018-19.

That initial plan emerged as a compromise three months ago after board members Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson proposed L.A. Unified start classes after Labor Day. They were at first concerned the district's mid-August start date disrupted family vacations and forced kids to attend classes in hot classrooms.

But on Tuesday night, Schmerelson said he had changed his mind, saying he was concerned that a later start might prompt parents to pull children out of district-run schools and enroll them in charter schools that begin classes in early- or mid-August.

"I can picture a co-located charter," he said, referring to a charter school that shares a campus with L.A. Unified. "I can see the charter starting early, I can see we're starting later, and the parents may say, 'Oh, heck, I'm going to enroll them in the charter school because the public school's not open.'"

McKenna and Vladovic remained opposed to the earlier start.

"When we start in early August, we lose a lot of kids anyway," Vladovic said, "because they're still on vacation."

"I'm not persuaded by arguments which are all hypothetical," McKenna said. "There is no evidence — even though my colleagues are talking about evidence — I don't know where you got that from, I don't know how you can prove that we lost" funding for average daily attendance.

Board member Ref Rodriguez also flipped his September vote, joining Mónica Ratliff, Mónica García and Schmerelson in putting a halt to the calendar change.

But Rodriguez also said the board had buried the lead: a start date in late August would inevitably lead to shorter winter and Thanksgiving breaks. He said parents in his board district initially favored a late-August start date, but as soon as it became clear they would get less mid-year vacation time, they cooled to the proposal.

"It's disingenuous to the public to not make the connection between the two of them. Now … people are very confused, and we're adding to the confusion," Rodriguez said.

Board president Steve Zimmer abstained from the vote, saying he was deeply conflicted; he personally favored an early start while parents in his westside board district overwhelmingly supported a later start.

But above all, Zimmer had urged the superintendent to craft the compromise measure brought forward in September.

"We worked something out," he said, "that I feel was a reasonable compromise."

But after the board's vote, King will now bring forward a new, detailed school calendar plan modeled on the 2016-17 calendar in January or February.

Assuming that means classes would start on a Tuesday three weeks before Labor Day, that would mean the 2017-18 school year would begin on August 15.

Plan your vacations accordingly.