Calendar controversy sparks heated debate at board meeting

The district calendar was a topic of much discussion at the Feb. 20 Moorestown Township Board of Education meeting.

A vote to approve the 2018–2019 district calendar was the catalyst for much debate at the Feb. 20 Moorestown Township Board of Education meeting at William Allen Middle School. While the district calendar was ultimately approved 6–3, the vote followed a lengthy discourse surrounding whether parent-teacher conference days should be denoted.

Superintendent Scott McCartney informed those in attendance that composing this year’s calendar was more “complex and dawn out” than any year prior.

“It has been a lengthy, involved conversation from really a lot of different stakeholders in the school district,” McCartney said.

The district calendar on Tuesday’s agenda addresses when school starts, when school ends and ensures the district meets its contractual days students are required to attend school according to the state. McCartney said the district calendar also recognizes holidays as well as fall and winter breaks.

McCartney discussed what has come to be colloquially called “No School November.” He said the administration has heard concerns from various members of the community about the NJEA Convention and parent-teacher conferences that are both scheduled in November. He said the resulting days off and half days have some parents voicing their concerns the time off causes disruptions to students’ schooling and forces parents to find child care for the affected days.

The district calendar does not address parent-teacher conferences, but McCartney said the administration has been actively engaged in discussions about how to schedule parent-teacher conferences to cause the least disruption to students, teachers and parents.

Once the district calendar is approved by the board, the administration builds the internal calendar, which includes elements such as parent-teacher conferences, prom, testing dates, marking periods, finals and other notable dates on a school-by-school basis.

“There’s a lot of thought in this process, a lot of discussion, a lot of listening to things people have said, a lot of rationale,” McCartney said.

McCartney said the administration has tossed around several options regarding parent-teacher conferences to accommodate working parents. He said they have discussed providing drop-in after-care programs or potentially having late arrival days as options.

He said while the administration has discussed moving parent-teacher conferences to a different month, they’ve found November seems to be the most ideal time. He said in speaking with teachers, they have found October is too early to provide adequate feedback, and December is too hectic given the holiday season.

Parent Christin Deacon passed out copies of the proposed calendar to those in attendance before taking to public comments to voice her concerns.

“I’m going to ask that the board possibly consider tabling the calendar vote tonight,” Deacon said.

Deacon said there is a misconception in the community that the district calendar has solved the parent-teacher conference problem because the conference days are not indicated on the calendar. She asked the vote be deferred, as the calendar, which was released on Friday, Feb. 16, has not been out long enough for parents to have reviewed it.

She said she submitted an OPRA request for communications from parents expressing concerns about the calendar. She said she reviewed more than 700 pages of documents and found there were only six letters from parents who had written to the district regarding the calendar. She said she found that number puzzling based on the loud outcry about “No School November” she had seen on Facebook.

Board member Dimitri Schneiberg echoed Deacon’s sentiments regarding the social media response. He said on Friday, he posted the district calendar on Facebook and heard concerns from parents that the problem of parent-teacher conferences scheduling was not addressed.

“It’s a point of angst in the community, and it’s time for us to fix that,” Schneiberg said.

Schneiberg said the board had the same conversation regarding conferences last year, and there were some tweaks to the schedule “but nothing substantively changed.” Schneiberg said he was not comfortable voting on a calendar until he sees a parent-teacher conferences schedule.

McCartney said if the vote on the district calendar were delayed, it hinders the district’s ability to start scheduling speakers, venues for Project Graduation and other bookings officials typically begin planning ahead for next year. He said he would prefer the board approve this calendar, so the district can move to the next steps “with something concrete” to begin scheduling these other facets.

“Trust that when I tell you I’ve heard you and we’re listening to you as a community, that we’re working on trying to come to a resolve with the intention of trying to check off as many of the boxes as we can,” McCartney said.

Schneiberg responded by saying he saw no harm in deferring the vote. He said the board’s role is to represent the voices of the community, and in his eyes, the community is asking for more transparency regarding the scheduling process.

McCartney clarified what a board member’s purview is when it comes to scheduling.

“There is a role and responsibility that a board member has and that role is to hold me accountable to the process,” McCartney said. “I’m employing the process as the executive for the district, and in the end, if you’re unhappy with that process or unhappy with me, you can hold me accountable through my evaluation and through hiring or firing as the superintendent.”

McCartney said there have been multiple conversations about the calendar with a variety of stakeholders in the district. He said he has presented the board with a calendar he thinks will move the district forward, and he saw no harm in approving it now and enabling him to continue to work on the conferences moving forward.

“You have to enable me to do that job, otherwise you don’t need a superintendent, and you’re doing day-to-day operations,” McCartney said.

The calendar passed with Schneiberg, Mark Villanueva and Tinamarie Nicolo-Dorfner voting “no.”

The next meeting of the Moorestown Township Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, March 12 at 7 p.m. in William Allen Middle School.