Cobb students face shorter summer breaks

Students in Cobb County schools are about to see their summer breaks fly by even faster.

A new school calendar, approved Wednesday over objections from a vocal group of parents, will shorten summer break by two weeks.

As a trade-off, the system’s 106,000 students will have a week off in September and February, as well as a full week at Thanksgiving.

The calendar, which was adopted by the school board on a 4-3 vote, will put Cobb students in class from the first week in August to the Friday before Memorial Day for the next three school years.

The system’s current school year started Aug. 10 and ends May 21, 10 days before Memorial Day.

Some parents denounced the vote for a “balanced calendar,” saying a shorter summer break could drive up the school system’s air-conditioning bills and make it harder for students to find part-time jobs.

“The kids don't want it," said Karen Jaundon, who has children at Hightower Trail Middle School and Pope High School.

Others called it the first step in a push for year-round schools, but school system spokesman Jay Dillon said board members asked for four calendars, all with starting dates in August, and have not given any indication that they support year-round school.

Still others charged that two board members, Chairman John Abraham and David Banks, reneged on campaign pledges to work for later -- not earlier -- school start dates. Abraham was elected in 2006; Banks in 2008.

“I don’t know what happens to people when they get in there,” parent Kathleen Angelucci said.

Abraham acknowledged that he had reversed his earlier stance, but said it was after thoughtful research and a survey, showing only about 4 percent of teachers wanted a later start date and a much bigger percentage wanted the balanced calendar.

“With the cuts that have come with this economy, I need teachers that are 100 percent,” he said. “Whatever I can do for their quality of work life, I’m going to do it.”

Dillon said the raucous crowd at Wednesday’s meeting was not representative of those who had contacted the school system after school officials placed robo calls to every student’s home weeks ago, telling parents that the school board was looking at four calendar options, including the one adopted.

At least one school board member received e-mails from more than 1,400 households, the majority of which favored the balanced calendar, Dillon said.

Staff also was surveyed, and 4,315 of 8,441 respondents supported the balanced calendar, he said.

“Three board members opposed the balanced calendar, so it was obviously not a pre-determined issue,” Dillon said. “There is a great deal of data available about the balanced calendar and its potential positive impact on student achievement, attendance, discipline and teacher morale and retention. Obviously, not everyone believes the data, but it is out there.”

Cobb’s not the first metro system to move to a balanced calendar. Cherokee, Henry and Rockdale also have them.

Cherokee made the switch seven or eight years ago, said school system spokesman Mike McGowan.

“Community, students and staff overwhelmingly enjoy it,” he said.

Other systems, like Gwinnett, have not set their 2010-11 school calendars.

Other options considered by the Cobb school board were: a calendar that closely resembles the current year’s schedule with school starting in the second week of August and ending a week before Memorial Day; a school year starting one week later in August and ending one week before Memorial Day for the next two years, with a three-day Thanksgiving break and a winter break shortened by three days; and a calendar that’s close to the current one, but with a week off in February and the last day of school on the Friday before Memorial Day.

Carolyn Garrison, a gymnastics coach, said she had voted for the calendar that starts later in August. But she said, “I’m OK with it.”

She said it will probably fit well with her work schedule since her business is in Cherokee County.

Alexandra Kelsch, a single parent in Kennesaw who has a daughter at Frey Elementary, said she's concerned that the additional breaks during the school year "will disrupt the students' routine and takes away valuable teaching time."

She also sees the calendar switch as a potential financial  hardship for her and other parents.  "Parents would have to take the additional weeks during the school year at an unpaid rate or find day care centers that will accommodate the student during those breaks," she said.