Parents reject proposal for late school start in Auburn

Chuck Lafean of Auburn speaks to the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday against late arrival for grades 7-12 every Wednesday. Lafean has two sons, a sophomore at Edward Little High School and a 2012 graduate of ELHS.
Daryn Slover | Sun Journal
Chuck Lafean of Auburn speaks to the Auburn School Committee on Wednesday against late arrival for grades 7-12 every Wednesday. Lafean has two sons, a sophomore at Edward Little High School and a 2012 graduate of ELHS.
Posted July 19, 2012, at 11:15 a.m.
Last modified July 19, 2012, at 3:59 p.m.

AUBURN, Maine — Saying students need more instruction — not less — parents and even a few teachers blasted the School Committee on Wednesday for considering a two-hour late start every Wednesday for grades seven through 12.

When no members of the public spoke for it, and 14 people spoke against it, the committee backed off Superintendent Katy Grondin’s recommendation to give teachers more professional development to improve instruction. The committee voted unanimously to table the subject for a future meeting. A vote on the issue was not scheduled.

Before the vote to table and after listening to unhappy parents for nearly two hours, committee member Laurie Tannenbaum said professional development for teachers was needed, but it didn’t have community support and a compromise was in order. Late arrival could happen once a month instead of once a week, she suggested. Committee member Bill Horton suggested monthly late arrivals not begin until January.

Committee member Bonnie Hayes suggested early dismissal, at noon, once a month instead of starting school two hours late, at 9:30 a.m. That way, Hayes said, parents wouldn’t have to deal with grades K-6 getting out early and older students going to school later.

That wouldn’t work, said Business Manager Jude Cyr, because the buses couldn’t transport all grades home at nearly the same time. At that point, committee members voted to postpone a vote.

Before the public weighed in, several School Committee members, including Hayes, Tracey Levesque and Larry Pelletier, said they would not support the proposal. By the time parents were done protesting, a majority of the board said they would not support weekly late arrival.

Parent Marnie Coleman told School Committee members that she used to be in favor of early-release Wednesdays, but not any more.

There’s no evidence, she said, “that children are getting a better education as a result of early-release Wednesdays.” Auburn’s test scores “aren’t any better than anybody else’s,” she said. “So my patience with this kind of thing is running very short.”

Working in the real estate business, “it’s difficult to promote Auburn as a good place to move because of the schools,” Coleman said. “We all know the problems with Edward Little. Early-release Wednesday is difficult to explain to people.” Late-arrival Wednesdays would be one more reason not to invest in Auburn, she said.

“Please don’t take any more time from the kids,” said John Daly, who has been an Edward Little High School teacher for 31 years. “I want more time in the classroom with my students, not less time.”

In 1981, a teacher had students for 152 hours per course. That time has since eroded to 110 hours. “I have lost 40 hours of instruction time since I started,” Daly said. “That’s huge.” With some teacher development time in the afternoons “and our seven workshop days, we’ll get it done. Do not do this. It’s not good for the kids,” he said to applause.

Parent Judy Cyr said professional development is important for teachers, but so is going to school for students. “My children need more education, more time in school, not less time,” she said. Professional development should happen after school, during the summer or on workshop days, Cyr said.

David Burke complained that the School Department doesn’t listen to parents: “You just talk to us.”

He took issue with Grondin’s earlier comments that parents could brainstorm on how to get students to school two hours later.

“Are you serious?” Burke said. “How dare you think that we need to adapt to something because you can’t brainstorm ideas yourself during the school day.”

Burke said he tried to fight the half-day Wednesdays, and there’s no evidence half-day Wednesdays are working. “I think it’s become an institutional teachers’ perk. I’d really like you to look at it. My daughter calls Wednesdays ‘wasted Wednesdays.’”

He and other parents complained about what he called misleading and unethical “robo-calls” that went out recently. The messages “made it sound like the deal was already done.” That’s why, Burke said, more parents weren’t at the meeting. “I’d like to see you keep robo-calls to if school’s called off for snow, not to politicize your point of view.”

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