Cobb votes on school start date

Protesters shouted "recall" and "liar" at members of the Cobb County school board on Thursday night after the board voted 4-3 to revert schools to a traditional calendar.

Students will attend class the same number of days, but start school on Aug. 15 rather than Aug. 1 and have fewer breaks throughout the year. This was the first year the district was on a so-called "balanced calendar," which was approved after a similarly heated debate in 2009.

More than 20 parents, teachers and students spoke about the calendar at the board meeting, and dozens more held signs and listened. Most were in favor of keeping the current schedule. However, board members who voted for the traditional format said it would save the district millions in summer utility bills.

"I was very concerned about academic achievement and the budget, and that's what we're looking at," said Kathleen Angelucci, who represents the North Cobb area.

According to an online survey conducted by the district, 77.2 percent of one-time respondents supported keeping the Aug. 1 start date, while 14.7 percent voted to start Aug. 15. The remaining 8 percent supported an Aug. 17 start date. Officials estimate about 38,500 people responded to the survey, some voting multiple times.

Parents who spoke in favor of the balanced calendar said walking away from the schedule would be disruptive to the system. Some pleaded with the board to stop debating the calendar and focus on other issues, such as the budget and the superintendent search.

“The legislators are in session -- there are going to be budget cuts. This will affect how we can deliver the quality education our system provides,” said Karen Hallacy, who spoke to the board. "I hope you can move on from the calendar discussion and work on the academic achievement of our students."

The balanced calendar was approved with the intention of a three-year trial period and the goal of improving student achievement by providing time for students to rest or get extra academic help. Supporters said it’s too soon to tell if it has had a positive effect on test scores.

“There is no new data we have to consider. We haven’t completed a single school year under the balanced calendar," said Dara Fairgrieves, who spoke to the board. "Only when we have the facts can we make a firm decision and have an intelligent debate on the factual and not the emotional.”

Those who feel passionately about the traditional calendar said it is a better fiscal choice. Some board members even campaigned on a promise to nix the spread-out school year.

"Voters went to the ballot box," said Vivian Jackson, a parent. "We do not want this experiment to continue another year."