When classes begin for many school districts may depend on what the Texas Legislature does this Spring.
The Pearland ISD Board of Trustees last week approved a school year calendar for 2015-16 in which the first day of school is Aug. 24 — a calendar that is much like previous years and with the same start date as the majority of public school districts.
However, it is possible that the Texas Legislature may change its stance this year, and allow public school districts to begin the year earlier than the fourth Monday in August. If so, PISD reports, the district could be one of many in the state that may choose to modify the calendar so that the school year ends earlier than the first week of June.
“There does seem to be some momentum at the state level for allowing school districts to start earlier than the fourth Monday in August,” PISD Superintendent John Kelly said, “and if that prevails, apparently that is going to come down to a contest between the school district wishes and the tourism industry, and that’s already started to happen.”
The tentative last day of school on the current calendar is June 2.
“Once people realize that an earlier start means you do not have to go into June with classes, parents appreciate it,” Kelly said. “They may like the late start, but they don’t realize that a late start also means a late ending because of the required number of (instructional) days.”
School start dates are a topic of debate since the recent filing two bills, one of which would allow public school districts the flexibility to start school as early as the second Monday in August.
The state law pushing school start dates back went into effect in 2007, and advocates cite savings on high August air conditioning bills.
“The tourism industry believes they make more money by starting school later and using more of August,” Kelly said. “We would counter that and say, ‘What’s the difference between that and the first few days of June?’”
Another problem that would involve graduating seniors, he added, is an overlap issue with colleges that begin summer sessions on the first of June.
Before the law went into effect, most Texas school districts obtained waivers to start the year in early or mid-August. Those who oppose the later start date state it doesn’t allow enough time to prepare students for standardized testing or to take final exams before the winter break.
The semester imbalance created by the later start date was a concern cited by PISD Trustee Virgil Gant, who cast the lone vote against the proposed calendar.
“Given the rules constraining us, there’s almost no way to make it better,” Gant said of the currently approved school calendar.
Another factor in the decision for the 2015-16 year is those who plan early around the published calendar. The district already has received calls from parents who are planning their year, Kelly said.
“The board may say, ‘As much as we’d like to move it earlier, they don’t have sufficient notice,” he said.
A last-minute change, Trustee Pam Boegler pointed out, affects far more than just teachers and students.
It could be April or May before the Legislature announces such a decision.
“There are a lot of things coming back before schools starts besides teachers,” she said. “Drama, choir, band, football, volleyball – it affects a whole lot of people if we approve this and then change it later.”
The current approved 2015-16 calendar is posted online at the district’s website, pearlandisd.org.